Aphantasia and Writing

February 21, 2023
JD Kirk

The following article, concerning writing with aphantasia, was written by JD Kirk and originally published in the Scotsman Magazine on Sunday 19th February 2023.

“How come you write so fast?”

It was the final question after my hour-long talk to a group of ten-year-olds about my latest children’s book, and followed hot on the heels of, “Where do you get your ideas from?” and, “Can we leave now?”

It was a question that, until that point, had never really occurred to me.

I did maintain a steady output, I had to admit. At that point, I’d written over a hundred novels for children, both ghostwritten and with my name on the front. I’d even co-written a non-fiction book with Roald Dahl, decades after his death.

It’s a long story.

On top of that, I’d written over two hundred strips for The Beano, countless other comics, an animated series for Dreamworks TV, and thirty-two-and-a-half episodes of the CITV series, Bottom Knocker Street, starring Phill Jupitus.

Still, it wasn’t like I was writing that fast. All that output had taken me almost six whole years.

I brought all the above up with some other authors in the yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival one year, and they all looked at me like they were wishing me dead.

Then again, I had just spilled orange juice on Yvette Fielding, so it might have been that.

To my surprise, it seemed that I was putting out books faster than many other authors. A lot faster. It turned out that very few of them were writing three books at once while bashing out a Bash Street Kids script, and writing absurdist situational comedy for a then team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks

It soon became a regular conversation whenever I bumped into another author at a festival.

“How many books have you written this year?” they’d ask across the buffet table.

“Fifteen,” I’d say.

That was a lie. It was usually about twenty, but I played it down out of a sort of embarrassment, or for fear they’d stab me with breadsticks.

“How do you do it?” they’d ask, the smiles on their faces not quite reaching their eyes.

“Quantity over quality, that’s my motto,” I’d say. We’d laugh, and move on.

I had no idea how I did it. I’d always assumed everyone just wrote that quickly.

It was years later, in a hotel room in Florida, that I’d finally figure it out.

But, I’ll come back to that.

By 2016, I was writing too quickly for publishers to keep up. I had books ‘in the bank’ waiting to be published, but though I was working with maybe half a dozen publishers by that point, their schedules were packed out. They might release one or two books of mine a year, but not five. Certainly not ten.

As luck would have it, around August that year, I was asked by a high school to deliver some workshops on how pupils could publish their own work.

Unfortunately, I had no idea how pupils could publish their own work. But, the school was offering to pay me actual real money, so I set out to learn what I needed to know.

I wrote a comedy sci-fi novel for adults called Space Team, edited it, designed a cover, and then published it on Amazon Kindle.

That took three weeks.

On the fourth week, something amazing happened. People started buying it. I had not been expecting that. It had been a learning exercise for me, and it hadn’t occurred to me that people might read it.

But they did. And, going by the reviews, they seemed to be enjoying it.

Firstly, I had an idea for a crime novel. It was going to be a one-off, I thought. I’d just rattle it off and publish it under a pen name – JD Kirk – so I could deny all knowledge of it when it inevitably sank without a trace

So, in November, I wrote a sequel – Space Team: The Wrath of Vajazzle – and I published it right away. No waiting six months for editors to give their feedback, or two years for the book to be slotted into schedules. I wrote it, I edited it, and I published it, all in one month.

By the time the third book was published the following February, I was earning more from my self-published books in one day than I was making from six months of traditional publishing royalties.

So, I threw myself into it. Over the next two years, I wrote twelve books in that series, a collection of short stories, and a spin-off trilogy. It was life-changing, both creatively and financially. Finally, I could get books published at the same speed as I was writing them. No more holding back. No more fighting the urge to run to the keyboard and exorcise whatever nonsense was filling my head that morning.

In 2019 my life changed further in two major ways.

Firstly, I had an idea for a crime novel. It was going to be a one-off, I thought. I’d just rattle it off and publish it under a pen name – JD Kirk – so I could deny all knowledge of it when it inevitably sank without a trace.

That book, A Litter of Bones, outsold the entire Space Team series within about a month of publication, and became the first in the ongoing DCI Jack Logan series. 

Today, in February 2023, I’ve written and published sixteen books in that series, plus a four-book spin-off series, and have sold almost three million copies.

The second life-changing moment came in that hotel room in Florida. I can’t remember the exact conversation – I don’t remember a lot of things, really – but it involved the concept of mental pictures.

I’d heard the phrase before, of course, but had always assumed it was a figure of speech. That day, sheltering from the heat and chatting to my wife and two children, though, I realised that when they said ‘mental pictures’ they were being literal.

They could see things. In their heads.

They could close their eyes and picture people, places, and objects using just their imaginations.

I laughed it off at first. I assumed they were winding me up.

But, no. It turns out that most people can see things in their ‘Mind’s Eye.’ I don’t possess a Mind’s Eye. Or, if I do, it’s welded shut.

Aphantasia and writing fiction by JD Kirk.

A rare photograph of the elusive Mind’s Eye. (Or a drawing of one, anyway.)

I was reeling, but suddenly, a lot of things I had not previously understood made sense. 

My dad telling me to count sheep to get to sleep, and me looking at him like he’d lost his mind.

The teachers in primary school telling me I’ve got three apples in one hand and two in the other, and asking me to count them, and me explaining that I didn’t have any apples, Miss, and hadn’t seen any kicking around.

I began reading up, and discovered that I have something called Aphantasia. It’s not a disability, just a different way of thinking – a way of thinking that’s forever couched in an empty void of darkness inside my head.

I also finally had an answer to give that kid sitting at the back of the class all those years before.

The reason I write so quickly, I believe, is because I think exclusively in words. There is no translation delay in my head between the pictures I see and what I want to write on the page, because there are no pictures. None. Zip. Zilch. 

I don’t have to imagine a beach to write about it, my entire concept of a beach is stored in my head in letters and syllables, ready to be called upon at a moment’s notice. 

That’s how I’ve been able to write over 200 books in a little over ten years.

Well, it’s either that, or the fact that I’m dead good at typing. But that probably wouldn’t have made for a very interesting article.

For more on writing with aphantasia, follow JD Kirk on Twitter or TikTok. For a whole host of information on aphantasia in general, click here



  1. Anne Lawrenson

    Wow , how interesting. You really do learn something new every day .😊
    Love your books , and I must admit to being one of those people who first met you through A Litter of Bones . Keep up the good work Barry and thank you . 👍

    • Leeanne

      I have just discovered the DCI Jack Logan series and am really enjoying it. Although at times I wish I had Aphantasia as I really picture some of the scenes in the book that I then wish I hadn’t!!

    • Caroline Roche

      I so have aphantastia and think that is why I am a fast reader as I see words not pictures. The upside is we will never suffer from PTSD!

      Noho ora mai from New Zealand


      • Marie

        Sorry to come with a bad news.. but you can certainly still have ptsd… 30% of people with ptsd have the dissociative subtype. People with Aphantasia ( i have multi sensory aphantasia) most likely fall in this category if they have it. It’s not intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmare. It’s detachment , emotional bluntness, depersonalization.
        So no, not less likely to have it, just not expressed as what we would think of typical symptomatology.

  2. Marion Smith

    Interesting. I wish all authors had it, then we wouldn’t have forgotten what was in the last one by the time the next one comes out!
    Love all your books!

  3. Julie Blackburn

    How interesting. I, for one, am glad you have this different way of thinking as I’m a huge fan of Logan & Hoon although I can read faster than you can write as I’m waiting impatiently for the next Logan 😉. Keep ’em coming.

  4. Mary Williams

    Wow! Fascinating condition!! Really explains your incredible output and amazing attention to detail.

  5. sue wilde

    interesting I have wondered how 16 books appeared…. Grishman has one a year and they aren’t all great. David Balacci has a series with Amos Decker who has this condition and it gives him some interesting mental capabilities. Love the books but love then through the voices of Angus King:)

  6. Jan Robinson

    I am bowled over by your books. Firstly the Logan series, taking a real dislike to Bob Hoon with the use of the ubiquitous F-word. A couple of weeks ago, suffering from a vicious virus,while waiting for the latest Logan book I was lured into the Hoon books and am thoroughly hooked. I love him. Beautiful writing-all of the books with lovely lyrical prose making me stay up far into each night. Can’t get my head round aphantasis, but will research. Only one slight grammatical hiccup to my mind ‘sink sank sunk’ (probably Indo European root). Maybe different in Scotland of course.) I came across the incorrect tense about three times in various places. Not bad for 19 kindlebooks. I am a real fan at 81 years of age, having read most other books in the genre.

  7. kathy

    The fact that you are willing to come out publicly, see this as an advantage and not a disadvantage is so commendable. It is a hard concept to get your head around, so to speak. I wonder if it ever gets in the way. Do you ever feel like you are over-describing? You definitely don’t in the books, but is that something that crosses your mind as you write?

  8. anne Walker

    Absolutely fascinating it’s true you learn something every day however you do it keep up the good work love your books 📚❤️

  9. David Robertson

    What an excellent explanation. One that I sort of understand; I don’t have pictures in my head or even words or numbers. I just think my ability is in my creations when I turn wood.

  10. Teresa Smith

    How interesting. Is it the same when you read books by other writers? When I am really into a book (all your Logan and Hoon books are included here) it is like a movie in my head. I see and hear the characters interact with each other. Thank you for all your fabulous books, keep up the good work.

  11. Michelle

    TL;DR. I get it! I’m not aphantasic but hypophantasic (limited visualization.)

    It was maybe 4 months ago that I learned about aphantasia. For me, the mind’s eye was just a phrase to get you to think about something, not necessarily see it. I use my mind’s eye, but I guess it’s not visually but in words and narrative. I had no idea people actually saw pictures in their minds while reading like a movie. I never have. And I’m with you, I have tried and failed to count sheep.

    As I delved deeper into the subject, I can’t say I am 100% aphantasic, in fact, those highly scientific online tests say I am hypophantasic. With incredible concentration, which probably is a look of constipation, I can visually recall memories, people, or places I have been but despite the Hoonian-level of mental effort, I am not always successful.

    When I am “successful,” it is never in active form, but as if I am looking at a photograph without my glasses on (I’m nearly blind without them.) But yet if you asked me to describe that person or place, I would have no trouble. When recalling memories, it’s in story form, emotions are conjured, but it’s not a movie.

    I have always used language which would indicate I see images. In school, I was always caught daydreaming (a symptom of another issue, ADHD). I have an incredibly vivid (another visual word) imagination and would make up stories all day in my head, but always in words, never in pictures.

    Even recently in your DCI Logan FB group, I asked for help with figuring out character ages (thanks for answering, btw), and someone replied asking why did it matter. I replied so I could ‘visualize’ the characters but that would indicate creating a picture of their physicality and I don’t, I can’t. Knowing the ages helped me ‘see’ where they were at in their life cycle and probable life experiences, giving greater insight into their mindset (or realistic potential plots like Ben retiring.)

    Now you’re probably wondering why the fuck I went into all this, dunno, I’m a story-teller so I guess it’s me saying ‘I get it.’

    I understand how you’re able to publish as much as you do because I can mentally write a story or a damn good, fully fleshed outline in a day or two (actually typing it all out is another matter entirely as is sustained focus on the physical task.) Stories constantly come to me, but it’s all in words, narration, never ever in pictures. They flow already in written form or maybe it is spoken like an inner dialogue thing?, so nothing has to be translated from a visual reference to a written one, in essence skipping a step in the creative process.

  12. Robin

    First, I want to thank you for the great Christmas Story – Die Hard move over!
    I love your books and hey if aphantasia is your secret weapon, then I’m glad you have it. I enjoy your writing so much I even went over to the dark side and read some of your sci-fi while I’m waiting for another Logon / Hoon novel. Very entertaining. You have a wicked sense of humor!

  13. Rob Hesketh

    Really interesting stuff, but…. I don’t know what my condition is, but it enables me to read your books considerably more quickly than you can write them. Can you pick up the pace please. Maybe to just three or four a week?

  14. elizabeth gmir

    Does that also mean you don’t dream!…just asking

  15. Tommy McQuillan

    I’ve read every DCI Logan and Robert Hoon book you’ve written and I’m a massive fan. The humour we Scots have of being able to laugh at ourselves in sometimes the most difficult periods of our lives is unique to us as a nation. The stories ar all brilliant although the last Hoon book Eastgate was a bit far fetched for my liking but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Keep up the good work Barry and God bless my friend.

  16. Charles Collins

    Well, crap, I think in pictures, I call them dreams, and I have a devil of a time getting them onto a page before they are gone or evolve. Same with the paintings I do. I’m glad you don’t suffer from that because I love your books.

  17. Jenny

    Does this mean that you don’t have dreams?
    Dreams to me are your sleep movies and I expect you would have to be able to see the mental pictures.
    Just interested.

  18. Diane Pekarcik

    I’ve wondered how you’re able to write books so quickly with no deterioration in quality. Love the Logan and Hoon books–keep on writing and I’ll easily keep up with buying and reading the books!

  19. Laura Austin

    I taught Reading for many years to middle schoolers. The teacher’s manual would often suggest having the students visualize something pertaining to the story before beginning to read. I could never figure that out…visualize something??? Needless to say, I never had this kids do that.
    A number of years ago, I finally asked my own children if they actually saw “pictures” in their heads. They looked at me like I was a crazy woman and answered “of course”. I was about 45 years old at the time. I had never known that other people saw images in the minds.
    Off the subject of Aphantasia, I am really enjoying the Logan and Hoon books. I look forward to reading the new one.

  20. Hilary

    That is absolutely fascinating. So little is known about how we think.
    Just love the Logan and Hoon books you have an amazing gift.

  21. Ian

    Does this mean you don’t dream when asleep?
    Also, an earlier commenter mentioned a Christmas story!
    What have I missed? Where do I get it?

  22. Dougie

    That was a really interesting read. I did wonder how you maintained such a prolific output of books, especially keeping the quality at such a high bar. Just about to start Logan #16.

  23. Joanna Angel

    Love these books. You can’t write them fast enough for me. Thank god for neuro divergent weirdness I say !

  24. Caroline Roche

    I have aphantasia and like you only realized I had it about 18 month ago. I am a fast reader and writer so maybe that is the aphantasia. I don’t find it a problem but it does explant many wasted hours at team building events in the 1990s when we were told to take ourselves to our happy place etc. I used the time to decide what I’d cook for dinner in the next week. On the up side we are not going to suffer from PTSD.