Evangelism. It can be scary. It can put you off a nice walk in the park. It can make you squirm uncomfortably at the front door. Or it can be fascinating and illuminating to see how the power of belief can make someone turn their life around, dedicate themselves absolutely to what they believe in. At its worst it can become fanaticism, extremism, terrorism. At its best it can be selfless dedication to a philanthropic cause.
Evangelism is like being possessed by a virus of belief. You want to spread the word to everybody, you want them to feel as you do. I felt that way recently when I joined twitter and after the first self-conscious new kid on the block feeling, (tagging onto people and hoping they would be nice about it) I began to discover what a wonderful place it was. As a writers forum it is invaluable on a practical, social, mental and emotional level. There is the opportunity to meet so many diverse but helpful, co-operative and compassionate people. I began to tell other people about twitter and what I had gained from it, how it had changed my writing life but I could tell from their glazed expressions that my fervour was making them a little bemused. I couldn’t get them to buy into it. Recently a writing friend Sally Clements began expounding on NaNoWriMo (for the uninitiated it’s where you sign up to write a 50,000 novel in the month of November). She explained super-exhuberantly why she thought it was so great, what it meant to her, and why I should try it. (See her great NaNoWriMo post. At first I backed slowly away, but her enthusiasm was infectious and I began to think that I could, quite possibly give it a go. (I’m still lurking in the doorway on that one, but I might dash in at the last minute, you never know!)
Evangelism is defined as crusading zeal in support of a cause. As a writer you need to be an evangelist. You need to believe in your writing, in your story, in your characters. You need to be utterly convinced and convincing. You need make others suspend their disbelief and travel with you. You need them to buy into your reality and make it their own for a time.
To write requires self-belief. But in the creeping forward towards an obscure point that is the story or novels end all writers must encounter doubt. The way is not clear, the walls and floor are not solid, and until you reach the endpoint you can’t be sure that the story you have made is coherent, has integrity, says what you want it to say. And even then, you cannot be sure if your message will resonate with others or even reach them.
And when your book is written, you have to go one step further. Now you have to spread the word. You may need to convince an agent or publisher that your story is one they want to share. You need to travel virtually or physically to meet people, to let the world know about your book, to talk and blog and tweet about it, to be its champion. All this in the face of your own doubts and insecurities. A crusade is often a battle, it isn’t easy, it flies in the face of obstacles and resistance. You need to Feel the Fear and do it anyway. If you really want to be a writer and to be read, you have to be the evangelist of your own unique story. Go to it.
My next post is going to be an indepth psychological analysis of evangelicism and how it relates to writing. (Betcha can’t wait!) But in the meantime here’s this nugget of wisdom from the Four young ones.
Er (4yo girl): ‘Boys think they’re cool but they aren’t cool’
R (7yo boy): ‘Boys think they’re cool and they are cool’
Ev (8.5 yo boy) to girl:
‘Girls think they’re cool. Some girls are cool but you’re not one of them.’
Baby (1.5 boy): ‘Cool, cool’
R to older brother: ‘You’re cooler than me, way cooler’
You may burn to be a writer, you may understand that it is your true calling and be prepared to put in the hours tapping away on the keyboard or scribbling with your pen but depending on your work situation and personal/family circumstances, there may be stretches of time when you are not able to be physically present with your manuscript. It’s still possible to be in your writing head and to progress with your story or piece even when away from it.
1: Let things simmer (incubation 1)
Psychological research has identified incubation as one of the key elements in creativity. Incubation is defined as ‘a process of unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas at some later point in time’ . Seabrook Rachel, Dienes Zoltan (2003). Incubation in Problem Solving as a context Effect (Wiki)
Incubation is the period between your conscious and practical outlining of your piece and the point where you come up with the hook or the usual slant on your proposed story. It’s the time when all your ideas mingle and coalesce and form unusual associations.
Writer Louise Wise recently commented on this blog Once I’m in my writer’s head my best writing has come from cooking the family dinner, wiping a 5 year old’s runny nose and mopping up a grazed knee! Somehow in between all that I’ve written a lovey dovey scene! Multi tasking? No sweat!!
Sometimes when you are finding it difficult to begin or to progress with your writing you may just need to give your ideas time to incubate. While going about your daily chores, travelling, listening to music etc you can still orient your mind towards your writing project and with a sort of Zen wait and watch approach be receptive to new ideas rising to the surface of consciousness. By placing the elements of your story into a pot and letting it simmer you may find resolutions to your sticky writing problems, you may find an exchange between characters rising fully formed from the stew or a plot angle from a real news story attaching itself successfully to a stuck place in your novel.
2: Get the pot really hot: Engage in a cultural activity (incubation 2)
One writer I know makes it a policy to set aside time for regular cultural trips to museums, art galleries, music recitals, readings, and dance shows. Exposing yourself to a hotch potch of creative ideas allows you to come at stories from different angles, to experience them through a number of senses, to see the world upside down and back to front. Benedict Carey in the New York Times recently wrote on How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect. The article outlines psychological research which shows that the human brain strives for order. Exposing it to the bizarre makes it work harder to make sense of the world and preserve narrative cohesion by identifying patterns. Thus ‘disorientation begets creative thinking’. So while you are immersing yourself in a flood of fascinating ideas, your brain will be working to find a common thread and the juxtaposition of unusual ideas may result in a unique story or piece of writing.
3: Remember and record your dreams (incubation 3)
We all dream, whether we remember or not. Freud made a career out of the Interpretation of Dreams as part of his psychotherapeutic technique. It is true that our dreams may carry many of our conscious and unconscious concerns. Dream interpretation also suggests that many aspects of our dreams can be symbolic. For example a dream of a bath, can mean a tub, or a vessel that carries something important. I am not convinced that we can be absolutely reductionist about our dreams. Any analysis should be done broadly. I believe that our dreams are our subconscious efforts at creating narrative out of our experiences, fragments of memories, subliminal cues, peripheral inputs. We are programmed to make sense of things, to tell stories and our dreams do that while we sleep.
It is the narrative genius of dreams – making sense out of the utterly bizarre – that makes it so worthwhile to try to recall and record them. It’s not often possible to do this and if we are woken suddenly our dreams often retreat out of reach. However I did, for a time, keep a dream notebook and with practice was able to write down many dreams.
There are, of course, many common themes, what may be called Archetypal stories, and these may as Jung suggested be common universal concerns. As a novelist we aspire to make explicit these universal stories. Our dreams can present us with unusual paths through our personal material that can give us an original voice when dealing with those themes.
4: Pay attention and Notice Difference
Decide to take notice (or notes) of things. I have spoken about this before but compared to children, for example, we take so much for granted, we are rushed, preoccupied etc and don’t take the time to notice the small details surrounding us, the details that can make a reader catch their breath with delight.
Psychology also tells us that we are attracted to people who are similar to ourselves, we are also programmed to gather evidence to support our own theories of life and notice environmental cues that feed into our preoccupations. For example if you are buying a house a drive around the neighbourhood will have you noticing all the For Sale signs. If you are into cars, you might take note of what is parked in the driveways. We need to make an effort to see things differently, to pay attention to the kinds of people we normally disregard, to take an interest in a different aspect of a scene, to watch or read something we might normally never consider.
This puts me in mind of an entertaining BBC comedy quiz show called Have I Got News For You. One of the quiz rounds is the fill in the missing word round. Phrases are taken from a guest publication. The guest publications chosen are a esoteric and ecletic mix including Welding and Metal Fabrication Monthly, Barbed Wire Collector, Hairdressers Journal International, Vacuum Cleaner Collectors Club Newsletter. While some examples are hilarious, these publications go to show that there are so many specialized interests out there, some you may never have imagined. What kind of people are interested in these sorts of things, what sort of lives do they lead? Aspire to see difference where ever you go.
5: Finally find Inspiration at the washing line (Inspiration 1)
/in the car wash/emptying the dishwasher/having a shower
I don’t think there is a reason I chose washing related examples but it’s at moments of mindless activity where our garrulous consciousness coasts into automatic and goes quiet that the subconscious gets a chance to speak its mind. I knew many years ago that I wanted to be a writer but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to write about. It’s true to say that the experience of years provides material. It strengthens associations and references that lend depth to writing. However I have discovered since I decided to just BE a writer that you can write about absolutely anything. And it’s at the washing line that all the phrases, news items, emotions, characters merge together and instantaneously throw out several fascinating ideas.
Why the washing line? It’s peaceful. I am momentarily (and I mean momentarily) away from the clamour of the children. It’s usually pleasant, uplifting weather (the reason I’m hanging out the washing in the first place). There may be a fresh breeze or bird song. The action of hanging out the washing is repetitive and soothing and requires little concentrated brain power. It is here that the fruits of all that incubation are realised, I become inspired and I find my way through. I trace the narrative thread of the line until a story falls from the bright blue sky. A man with an obsession with weeding is an emotional tyrant who bullies his wife. A pigeon’s coo reminds me of a time and a place and first love. A jokey remark made to one of the children becomes a possible children’s picture book story.
I am a writer in my head, in my dreams, in my outlook, in the middle of my chores. I nearly trip over the washing basket as I run back inside to find a pen to pen the ideas in and prevent them from getting away. So don’t sweat when you can’t be writing, get into your writing head, feed your subconscious and let it do the work for you.
I want to say that we choose a path and that maybe it’s the right one and maybe it’s the rightest one and maybe we’ll never know. I want to say that sometimes you feel that you are living the wrong life, that this isn’t who you are, that you could have been more, done more, that there are all these skins. The skin between this life and the parallel universe, the skin between people who will never quite see out of the same pair of eyes. There are the moments in time when you feel you are mapped right on top of another person, see eye to eye, see through each other’s eyes.
There are times out of joint. There are times when you wake up and things aren’t quite right. You wake up and the sky is still dark, or a June day turns black, or you go out and there isn’t a soul in the world walking and everything is white. You come out from a coma and realise that you have lost several weeks of your life and nothing will bring it back. You missed your 40th birthday, so you aren’t really 40. You received a job offer but weren’t able to accept it. You might have begun elsewhere. You come home and find out that he gave some of your stuff away. Or you don’t recognise your clothes, your tastes, your husband. The blow to the head makes you ask what are the choices you made and what the hell are you doing.
You have changed. Your young children who pick up on the smallest things, who feel separation like ivy being torn off a tree, they no longer quite recognise you. You look like my mummy they say but they have this impression that she’s gone somewhere. She is in the fairytale hospital because they have never been there, or that you went to heaven which is that lovely shop in between Tesco’s and the Butchers where they sell scented candles and play the music with chimes.
There are the lost children, the ones who were wanted and never were, the ones who had to be given away, the ones who disappeared, if only from memory. There is the child inside ourselves, there is the version of our childhood we tell ourselves that may or may not be real. There is unreliable eyewitness testimony, there is the laying down of memory, there is the retrieval the altered contexts, the differing standpoint like the observer effect on Heisenburg’s electrons.