Many times, I have sat down to write with a plan in my head of how an article or novel chapter should be, and when I’ve finished writing it is something very different to what I’d imagined.
Writers talk about this frequently. Fiction writers often say that a character wouldn’t do what they wanted, or that the characters took over the story. Of course our characters aren’t real; they can’t really take over a story, they can’t really take on a life of their own.
So where does the writing come from? And why do we have so little control?
The irony is of course that the more we try to control the writing process the less we are able to write at all. I am not sure if that statement is entirely true for writers who are simply reporting facts or for technical writers – but it seems that for any writing that is remotely creative, we have to let go of control before we can really write our best, if we want writing that feels inspired.
Psychologists tell us that this kind of writing is what we do with the unconscious mind, scientists say it’s when the right brain is dominant, the religious claim it is words from God and the New Age religious say it’s the collective unconscious. Or maybe it was Jung that said that.
My best guess is that nobody knows where this writing comes from. It could be little green men who control my mind for all I know (though I think if it was I’d probably write fantasy or science fiction instead of realism, which (very) occasionally drifts into magic realism.)
If there are little green men in my head, then they are better writers than I am. The funny thing is that mostly when I write something I hadn’t planned, when the words just come pouring out, I like it. I like the feeling of losing control, and I mostly I like the results. Occasionally those little green men – nah, I’m bored with them – and besides in every one of those “How left-brained are you?/How masculine or feminine is your brain?” tests that I’ve ever done, I come out predominantly right-brained and predominantly feminine. So goodbye little green men, and hello little pink women!
So anyway… occasionally those little pink women that reside in my brain come out with some purple prose or excessively gushy drivel or something that’s far too self-indulgent to be read by anyone but me. Even when they do, there’s usually something worth salvaging. I used to think that I had to write with pen and paper for these magical moments to happen, but they can just as easily occur with a computer screen and keyboard – especially if I don’t worry too much about typos in the first draft.
When I set out to write this article, it was going to be a serious look at how our minds work, a thoughtful pondering of just what exactly it is that springs into action when we start to write. Seems the little green men and little pink women in my head had other ideas! The moral of this story is that with writing, there is definitely something beyond our rational thinking brains that is at work. And perhaps it’s not a good idea to analyse it too far.