Begin at the end and end at the beginning (or how to fail exams and confuse your friends)

Excuse me if these words look wobbly. I am taking a short break from NaNoWriMo 2015.

National Novel Writing Month means just that – writing a novel in a month. 50,000 words minimum, 70,000+ if you want to hit a more mainstream word count.

That’s a lot of words passing through your mind day and night. A lot of time spent inside your head. It was 2.58 this morning when I stopped nanowrimo-ing and jotted down the notes for this post.

So if these words look wobbly it’s because I’m tired or you’re tired or the screen’s tired, and not because they’re actually… well, let’s not go there. Muriel Spark’s experience with Dexedrine leaps to mind.

Question: do you see words?

I don’t mean when they’re written down, I mean when you say a word do you see it pass through your mind, fleetingly, as a written word?

I think I do. I think that knowing how a word is spelt helps me to say it, which seems to be the wrong way round when you think about it. And putting things the wrong way round is the subject of this post.

When I was younger, school age, I used to enjoy playing with the patterns in words and numbers. In seeing my spoken words as written words, I found I could say them in different ways – backwards, for example.

‘Pick a word, any word,’ I’d say, ‘and I’ll say it backwards’.

I became quite adept at this, and like most hobbyists, I was meticulous in the accuracy of my output – which in my case was reversed pronunciation. After a while I could take on whole sentences, even paragraphs.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? No problem.

This wholly useless habit gave me an oddity value at school – much as if I’d brought in a talking parrot or a dancing dog. When my house tutor met my parents at a parent-teacher evening, his comment to them might have been: ‘Jamie is doing quite well; he can say words backwards’.

Tougher children than me would demand to hear swearing backwards, presumably hoping they could curse a teacher with impunity; the more studious would challenge me with onomatopoeia and the formidable, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

My friends treated it as an annoying tic that was best ignored – and thank goodness they did, because the downside of this mental exercise was that I was conditioning my brain to do it automatically. I realised this when I began processing the wrong numbers in maths exams, and dialling the wrong telephone numbers. It was becoming a habit. It was becoming embarrassing.

The turning point came when I considered signing my name, James 51773.

It had to stop. And so over a term or two I completely weaned myself from that pointless habit – much to my friend’s relief. And now like most writers – known and unknown – when I test words and phrases by saying them out loud, I do so with them in the correct order and the right way round. Which is very useful if you want to write things that people can understand.

Which reminds me, break time is over. It’s time to get back to oMirWoNaN… I mean…

Oh well – I’m almost almost completely weaned.

For more information on NaNoWriMo 2015, follow this link: http://nanowrimo.org/

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