Thursday, September 10, 2009

Split Personality

Woe is the artist… We artists struggle with many things –

  • How to make money while pursuing our art?
  • How to ignore the household chores so you can write without guilt?
  • How to ignore distractions like the telephone, long conversations with a good friend, email, blogging, etc. ?
  • Do I exercise now in this spare time or work on my novel?
  • Do I write this in present or past tense, in first or third person?
  • Is my pacing right, my tone, does my voice sound like a 40-year old or a 12-year old?
  • The dog is whining; Do I let him out again, or put him in his crate so he can stop distracting me!

There are A LOT of things that get in our way but did you know that that is because there are two of you?

According to Robert Olen Butler from his book, From Where You Dream; the Process of Writing Fiction, there are two of you; the one you are aware of – the writer-self – and the one you might not be aware of – the nonwriter-self.

The writer-self says, I want to write! The nonwriter-self says, No I don’t. And that is the voice that tells you to do the dishes first, or fold the laundry, or let the dog out, or second-guess your every writer decision, or write this blog article instead of edit pages to send out for submission.

Now that you are aware of this saboteur you can look her right in the eyes and say, “CUT IT OUT! I mean it. I’m serious. I WANT TO WRITE,” and silence her once and for all.

Butler further goes on to say, writing, like all other art forms, must stay a sensual experience. Easier to do for dancers, musician, and artists, but not for writers whose art is words. So how does one create a sensual experience through words? Think of the five ways we experience emotions.

  1. Sensual Reactions - be aware of where in the body the emotion is felt and what specifically is felt - a rise or fall in body temperature, heartbeat, muscle tension, neural changes...
  2. Sensual Response - be aware of how the sensual reactions are shown on the body - posture, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and so forth.
  3. Experience Emotion through flashback - most of the times we are unaware of this because we do it so readily, but think about it... when you get upset about something, often times you get flashbacks of other times in the past you also felt like this. Sometimes it is an object that will bring you back to when you felt this way before. For example, you're angry with your mother because she always forgets to call you on your birthday. You have sensual reactions - maybe you get hot, hear a ringing in your ear. You have a sensual response - you stand with arms folded, foot tapping, shooting icy stares at the phone which never rings. And then you have the Emotional flashback as you stare at the phone - She always does this. Remember that time when I was 9. She said we'd go to Farrel's for dinner and the huge 12 scoop sundae. I waited by that damn olive green phone in the kitchen until the sun and moon switched places in the sky. By the time she got home, I was in bed and her breath smelled of wine and cigarettes once again. [this is just an example... my own mother would never do such a thing =] This flash back is key. It is quick, rooted in the present emotion but tells so much about both characters, triggered by an object in the present tying it to the past.
  4. Emotional Flash forward - this is like a flashback but it speaks of the future. It can speak of your characters hopes or fears. Let's take the above example again. Next year I turn 30. Will she forget me again, even then? No! Next year, I am going away on my birthday. Yeah. Just me and Flo. We'll get on that charter bus... no a plane. Yeah, we'll fly out of this one street light town to some tropical heaven where there are no phones and then it won't matter if she forgets because I won't be there to find out. In the flash forward we still learn a lot about our character. We learn about her tiny town, her dreams of leaving it behind, and learn there is a friend she might take with her. But the yearning is still there. She still yearns for her mother to notice her and love her.
  5. Sensual Selectivity - Butler says that at every moment we are accosted by sensual cues but when we experience an emotion we only allow a certain number of sensual cues in. What we see is our deepest emotional inner self. Again back to our example... Ugh rain clouds. Of course! Nothing but me and the lonely grey cloud above that follows me everywhere. Outside there are also flowers in bloom, leafy crowns on the trees, birds splashing in puddles but our MC can only see the lonely grey rain cloud because that cloud reflects her feelings, it's how she sees herself, and so she tunes out all the other sensual details and focuses only on the one that represents her emotions.

I recommend adding this one to your bookshelf dedicated to writer How To's. I am on my second reading now. There were some parts that were not so helpful for me. But the parts that were have changed my writing forever.

Now let’s share. What are ways you tell the nonwriter-self within you to PIPE DOWN and let you write?

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous