It’s not uncommon to hear writers talk spookily about their characters taking on lives of their own. However, even when a writer has planned a character’s journey through a novel, there are always changes of direction that happen during the writing process. Rather than put this down to any supernatural occurrence, I believe this apparent loss of control – as if characters are ‘taking over’ – is a sensation that occurs when the writing self and the psychic self become aligned. It is the sensation that occurs when the writer is open to both their writing and life experience that informs it.
The child narrator of Alarm Girl is a fictional character and a composite made from features from real life models (some of her attitudes and mannerisms reflect those of my youngest son, for example). She is also recognisably a version of my younger self – that is, the person I was psychologically speaking, when I was young. People who knew me as a girl say they can see me in Indy. Her circumstances are entirely different from the ones I grew up with but psychically she is me – as far as I am able to tap into this level of self.
Some writers talk about being ‘possessed’ or mention characters having a will of their own but I think the rush they are describing is simply what happens when one is open to both the writing and the life experience that informs the writing. The feeling this gives a writer is incredibly liberating. The conditions in which it can happen require open-ness and awareness as well as a commitment to the writing process (in terms of time, mostly). It’s also why timing is so crucial – as writers we might not always be at a stage in our craft to sufficiently express our experience and we might not be at an emotional pitch that is conducive to this process. All these elements need to be in place and in smooth conjunction with one another, aligning like planets.
4 thoughts on “writing out the psychic self”
Very insightful Hannah, as a writer I would add something else to that list of ‘psychic’ connections and make it into a ‘psychic triangle’ (!) in that I think that when you are in that state of openness you also let in observations you have made of others in the wider world, often people you may never have met but may have only glimpsed. Maybe even just an image or a small happening that sparked something in your imagination at the time but which you have forgotten – until the moment when something you write re-kindles it.
You’re right, Corinna, there is that additional perspective. The glimpses you mention can be harvested at different levels of consciousness, can’t they? There is a snippet of dialogue between Doug and Valerie in Alarm Girl that has its roots in something a childhood friend of mine overheard – she reported it like, thirty-eight years ago and it seemed incidental but it obviously struck hard for it to surface so many years later!
I believe that a lot of information is stored in our own ‘hard drives’ and often this involves the difference between expection and reality in terms of friends, aquaintances and those that are attractive to us. Along this measure is where I believe, we create character. A quote from Silas Marner, “There’s allays two ‘pinnions – there’s the pinnion a man as on hiself, and the pinnion others ‘ave on him. There’d be a pinnion bout a cracked bell, if the bell could ‘ear itself”
Thanks for this, Paul – I like your idea of a measure along which we create people to populate our writing. The Silas Marner quote feels apposite – I can see how several characters I have written about over the years fall in the gap between a pinnion I might have of myself and the pinnion I perceive others to have of me. Writing into this gap is a way of furthering my understanding of the world and my place in it – which is of course the function of all creative writing, for both writer and reader alike.