Sunday, June 11, 2006

Talking to yourself

I want to talk about one of the terrific things about being a writer. Okay, so there are a few of them. But this one is a big deal. When you're a writer, you're allowed to do this thing that they scolded you for when you were a kid–you're allowed to talk to yourself and people around you indulge this marginally neurotic behavior. You even (with luck) get paid to live in your own head from time to time. Which is how come (by talking it out with myself) I came to subscribe to a theory about the different selves that live in a writer's head.

It's not new. Dorothea Brande wrote about it in the 1930s, in Becoming a Writer. The theory involves a creative half and a managerial half–you've heard of this, I know. Take heart, Anne Lamott fans. I frame the venerable concept in bird terms.

The mockingbird is the creative half of your writing self. It exists to energize you, enable you to create. It takes songs from the entire range of its experience and trills them into your ear, letting you think you have the ultimate answer to your fictional ultimate questions. If you let it carry on uninterrupted it does really well for awhile. Then it gets a little...shall we say, self-absorbed. If you continue to let it run wild it can write you a gloriously wonderful and fatally flawed first draft–and then it won't shut up.

That's where you bring the crow on. The crow, unfettered, rips your work to shreds. But you need it–desperately. Trust me. We all need the crow. We have to tame it, though. Let it tell you what's wrong, but don't let it take the heart out of the story.

The trick is to alternate the two personas. The trouble is, I forget this stuff from one book to the next. A bit like forgetting labor pains. Which is one of the reasons I began this blog, so it could be what a third-grader in one of my writing residencies this year called a "rememory." Me, I could always use an extra rememory.

1 comment:

  1. Love this post, Uma. I've printed out and put in my bulletin board.

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