Thursday, 9 July 2015

Creative Risks

The risks referred to in the title of this piece are the risks to the mind of the creative individual, and is intended as a warning. If you are an aspiring writer, then you need to be aware of what you are getting into, what writing may do to your mind, and what the costs might be.

There are layers and aspects to the skill set necessary to write, and the one I am addressing here is that of understanding people in order to create convincing characters for your stories. Knowing how different minds work, how situations change the thinking and actions of an individual, means thinking in those ways in order to tease out original but realistic actions taken and words spoken by that character, that person. Imagine Shakespeare writing the play Othello; he would have been thinking as Othello would, imagining actions that Othello would take; to some degree he would become Othello, his mind working as that characters mind would work. That mindset would inevitably bleed over into his real life to some, hopefully small degree. Like a lens held before his minds eye, he would see the people and events and interpret them as Othello would, and even react to them as Othello would. At least for the duration of the writing of the play.

Now let's remember that Othello is a tragedy. And that Shakespeare also had a wife.

In some ways, writing can be like method acting. Fully immerse yourself in the thoughts, feelings, mindset and context, the reality of the character – this can particularly be a risk if you are writing in first person. You put down your computer after the days work and with the mindset of the character you are involved with, turn to your real life and the real people around you. The more extreme the character, the more it is possible to negatively impact your own relationships.

It can become a habit, even when not working on any particular project. You can find yourself in situations where you see someone who is in a bad place, see that it is interesting and by “writer's habit” to imagine what is going on in that persons mind... the more you understand human nature and the human condition, the easier this is... and adopt that mindset, think those thoughts, become that character for a while as you set the character in your mind for future use in a story you haven't even conceived yet.

You might find yourself spending half a day thinking as though you were another person entirely, and having conversations with people you know while fixed in that mindset, using the lens you have created in order to understand a character you are writing, or plan to write about, or a character you may never even use. No prizes for guessing that this can have a negative impact on your relationships, that the people around you can be confused when you react to what they are saying as though you were someone else entirely.

Now imagine explaining to that person that it “wasn't you” talking... imagine hearing that from someone who has just hurt you by acting and talking as though they were someone else entirely. That won't make the words unsaid, the things not done, the consequences reset.

Empathy is a useful tool for a writer. The ability to adopt another person's mindset can help create entirely convincing characters. But when you allow the mindset of those characters to bleed over into your real life and influence the people around you, it is time to stop.

Writing need not drive you crazy, but there are a good number of writers who have succumbed to what can become massive internal pressures generated by the creative process. There are many examples. Philip K Dick, Hemingway, Poe, Kerouac, Plath, Thomson, and already the list is long enough. I can't help wondering how many of these and other writers drove off the mental cliff in part because they had adopted so many lenses, imagined themselves into so many different characters, that they had quite simply forgotten who they were and no longer had the ability to react and act as themselves.

Recently, just really very recently, I added myself to the list of crazy writers for this very reason. A cherished friend visited me for a ten day holiday. I was writing, being a character, fully immersed into the work and near the end of the book. The work was interrupted, but the needed mindset persisted for the ten day holiday and I literally was not myself. At one point, just in passing, she said “You will become known as the crazy writer on the hill.” It was a casual comment, not intended to do any harm.

When she left, I literally lost it completely. Partly because I know full well what effects writing can have on my mind, how thoroughly I can create a lens and adopt another mindset, and how badly that can influence my thinking and decision making processes. I don't want to be the crazy writer on the hill, thanks very much. I barely made it to an airport, barely made it somewhere safe. It was, I will be honest, a damn close run thing.

As an end note, a word to those who are still asking when the next Sumto book will be released. The answer is, I don't know. The answer is, sometime after I can bare to adopt Sumto's mindset and be Sumto for the duration of the writing, when my being Sumto for a couple of months won't adversely effect the people around me.

And as for Sapphire.... no, I definitely won't ever be writing any books from Sapphire's point of view.

For now I am not writing. I have, to be perfectly honest, far far more important things to do in my real life, where there are people who need me to be me.

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