As authors, we often feel like we're multiple people living multiple lives. This week's guest poster, Giulia Simolo, explores this concept. How do you experience the Writer's multiple lives?
The Writer’s Multiple Lives
It was midnight. I could not sleep and my mind was wandering like a ship in the night, unsure of its destination but unwilling to throw its anchor overboard. That was when the voice came to me. It felt like that of an old friend, and yet it belonged to someone completely new and utterly fascinating.
Was I going crazy?
To the world, you might feel that this would be labelled insane. Hearing voices? Seeing images of someone in your mind? You, of course, know that this is a character for your new story that demands being written on the page immediately. But to the world, the idea that someone out there is speaking to you could make people question your stability! Added to this, how do you explain the connection you experience with these characters, and how you feel loss when the story ends and they stop pestering you at midnight? How would you explain to a non-writer that you feel that the characters choose you instead of you picking them from your imagination?
And yet, these are the kinds of things that happen to a writer. Once you meet your character and he or she settles in for tea, you start building on that initial impression to ensure they are not a whimsical creature made of slivers of lace but actual three-dimensional beings. When tackling characterization, there are often tips and various forms of advice handed out to writers, such as that it’s important to have a full sketch of who your character is (and this should be very detailed) before you embark on the writing journey. Tips such as the above are helpful, however there is one aspect that no one can control and which must not always be reined in during this process: the writer’s mind.
Award winning Irish writer Emma Donoghue once said, ‘[Writing stories] lets me, at least for a while, live more than one life…’ Through our writing we can experience various things, many of which are in contrast to our daily lives. For instance, we might put ourselves in the shoes of a protagonist who travels the world or is obsessively dieting, or a drug addict… The writer takes on a role similar to that of an actor: he or she has to play the part, explore it, invest in their imagination, and try to make it as real as possible. This experience in the mind will be different for every writer. Although one’s characters are essentially made up, the writer is spending hours, days, weeks, months and sometimes even years with them, constantly perfecting them and their stories. Through these characters, the writer not only explores their lives but their own life if they were the character - all inside their own head. It is a vicarious way to live out a different reality, which can be exciting and liberating.
We have been told many times that keeping a diary or journal can help us process feelings or situations. Writers take this idea one step further by allowing their characters to do the elbow work for them. If you cannot understand or surrender to a situation you find yourself in in real life, such as illness or heartache, it can be vastly therapeutic to allow your character to find ways to deal with the problem on your behalf. Turn your character into a sci-fi knight to slay your disease! Allow your character to be a tough-talking, independent woman who rejects the man instead of getting her heart smashed into pieces! Perhaps, if you feel you cannot do or say something in your real life, you can take your frustrations or solutions out on the computer screen, changing reality somewhat. The power that comes with the imagination! Allowing ourselves to live different lives on the page can transform our reality, helping us come to terms with our dilemmas, and offer the world an incredible story that will hopefully inspire readers who can relate to it. As the brilliant writer Virginia Woolf expressed: ‘Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.’
The reason I say one cannot, and should not, control the writer’s mind is that, as brilliant writer Oscar Wilde once said, ‘Art is the most intense form of individualism that the world knows.’ Every writer starts with a perspective, thought or idea that no one else would fully perceive. This is what makes every writer so unique, like a snowflake or fingerprint. Maintaining this state of being instead of feeling afraid of it is crucial to the writer excelling in his or her craft. However, the writer’s mind is at work long before any contact with the pen and paper occurs. It is as though characters are marinating in our subconscious before we meet them. They appear to us as though they are answering our private call in the small hours of the morning, and maybe they have been waiting for the right time to enter our lives. The most amazing part about characters is that they are really just ourselves answering our own calls.
Meeting your story’s character is like meeting a part of yourself. Even if your character is very different when compared to you, they are a part of you. You created them, even if you didn’t realize you were doing this until they stormed in unannounced. Before pushing them out so you can get back to bed, ask them why they are there and who knows? It might just be the start of a wonderful story.
Is the writer crazy? Absolutely not. On this earth, we are all walking stories, made up of different ideas, contradictions, and sometimes feeling like different people. We change, sometimes from one minute to the other. All we are doing as writers is allowing ourselves to live out all those fancies and ideas in another realm. The beauty is when this reaches full circle: when a reader grasps onto the character and feels that they are mirrored in them, that they can survive another day or the character’s words echo the machinations of their own soul. That is when the writer’s so-called folly becomes beautiful fiction, the caterpillar of self-doubt transformed into the hopeful butterfly with wings constructed out of the most powerful material that exists on earth: words.
Giulia Simolo's book, Eat Your Heart Out, can be found on Amazon.
Some of us have many narratives all going on at the same time. What's your experience of this? Please share your thoughts in the comments below - and this post with your friends!