A limp, wasted couple of days recovering from a stomach virus, just when I had so many plans to get loads of stuff done over the long holiday weekend. And all whilst the sun was shining – now there’s a hackneyed metaphor for you. Worse than that, post-viral inertia gave too much time to think, activating my negative ‘voice in the head’.
It can be useful this ‘inner voice’, reminding you not to over-do things, to check your facts, have a re-think. But at times like this, it can be the bad angel on your left shoulder, reminding you of what you have not done, what you cannot do; perhaps foolish for thinking you ever could. It’s the internal critic, popularly known as the itty bitty shitty committee. Oh, about so many things this past couple of days, including what gives me the nerve to think I might be able to write, and to have the temerity to put those words before others.
Why the heck are you bothering? The voice says. The world is full of books already, many that no one reads. Who are you to think you can bring something new to a well-established genre? And it’s not like you’ve set the book world on fire here!
Then I remember: I am also writing for myself, for the enjoyment and satisfaction it brings. And one of the of benefits of writing is being able to get out of my own head a while. Often into someone else’s.
Because you do need to spend time in your characters’ heads. They may have experiences and traits you recognise or relate to, but they are not you. And, typically, it is not your story. So you need to stop and listen to them. Why do they behave as they do; what makes them the way that they are? What do they need, want, hope for? In dialogue, how do they express themselves, communicate – whether that’s well or badly? And what is their inner voice saying?
You have to show what they think, feel, remember, in what they say and how they put that across; in how they behave, react, and possibly think (though limit the italicised ‘inner dialogue’, is my own view).
This sounds whimsical, but your fictional characters can even start to surprise you. Recently, for instance, I roughed out a sub plot for a character who is not particularly sympathetic on the surface, and came to understand her better, her history, motives and complexities. I may not even use this in a completed text – we know how great dollops of digressive back story can weigh down a novel – but it helped, knowing more about the character.
A project called Writers’ Inner Voices, conducted by the University of Durham in the Uk, looked into this, interviewing authors about their creative process. The study investigated the way writers ‘hear’ the voices of their characters, and whether those characters write their own narrative, taking on a life of their own. The results of the survey are rich and cannot quickly be summarised (see the link at the bottom of the page). But it notes the importance of writers sharing ‘the illusion’, of not only creating but getting ‘acquainted with the characters being written about’. It can be like, as one writer said, ‘getting to know a friend’ or, in the words of another author, building a character ‘strong enough that the character feels real…’.
The study also referred to getting into ‘the zone’ or into ‘flow’ during writing. In other words, becoming absorbed in the task in hand. The concept of ‘flow’ was defined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a universal experience, a state of ‘total involvement’ in a task, to the point where one may become unaware of time and one’s surroundings.
So yes, much as reading lets you inhabit someone else’s mind a while, allowing you to forget about your immediate situation, so can writing. And aside from being a necessary process, it can be a relief to take time out from your ‘own’ thoughts.
Am I agreeing with those that say writing can be therapeutic? Well, there are the knocks to the ego when it’s not going well, particularly if you chance your arm and publish – a negative review, poor sales. But in terms of the act of writing itself, yes, it is most certainly beneficial.
Writers’ Inner Voices, Durham University in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, https://writersinnervoices.com/
Inner Voices: How Writers Create Character: http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/production/article/art20141127135622425
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Audio clue sky close up, Jens Mahnke, Pexels
Angel Devil Opposites, Comfreak, Pixabay