The Author As Host–AH!

 

 

 

The Attraction  of Writing Fiction

What a fascinating idea writing fiction is. You have this great idea in your head and what fun it will be to bring it to life.

And Then There’s Reality

I’ve found, in some ways that the actual writing skill may be the least of it. That’s not arrogance or being dismissive. I found a lot of unforeseen issues. Let me be upfront that I’m a clinical psychologist which turned out to be a plus and a minus. I found some things I hadn’t expected such as characters beating on my door and some I had to fire. I had no idea that would happen.

Characters as Living Beings

Maybe that’s a problem because of what I did for a living. Doing psychotherapy sounded really interesting and it was but it is also challenging. My clients were sometimes stubborn—like a character.  Sometimes they had unexpected things going on inside of their brains—like characters. With a character you can try to ease them into something coherent. Real people are often not so obliging. And actually characters can be annoying and stubborn as well.

And Then There is the Author

We would like to think that the story and its construction are firmly under our control. Well, that’s what we might like to believe. What I’ve seen is that we often harbor beings in ourselves that we are not clear about. Naively we might think the character we chose is brilliant but it may be something hiding in us. Oh dear! 

And then there is our own personality. Maybe you haven’t considered that but as a psychologist I found I had to. I know my Jungian personality type and understand that part of my personality is in my unconscious. Interesting construct—and then comes the writing. My primary personality component is intuition. How cool! My basic direction is toward what might be, and I ask “What If” a lot. As a writer my saving grace is that my backup function is thinking which means part of me then moves forward to give some structure and focus rather than always racing off toward the horizon. And, of course, there are other attributes further down. Those things in the unconscious constitute traps in themselves.

The Coming Together

When we go to work we have a brilliant idea and then are bombarded by the demands of characters and various parts of ourselves. Sometimes I think it is a blessing to know this because of my profession and sometimes all it tells me is how unexpected and difficult the writing process can be whether we are forewarned or not.

Tools

I’ve found that the construction of Dara Marks’ transformational arc helped keep me under control. It also helped to know that we all have hidden beings in ourselves. They may drive a character forward or make him or her be insistent. Our personality my help us or hinder us but it is helpful to know that our personality may contribute. So much for the neat idea of writing which simply needed actualizing. We are beings who live with a host of selves and beings. That’s both a blessing and a curse but it helps to not have it all be unexpected.

Maybe in the End…

Of course,  what I’ve been talking about is the unexpected but it need not be a curse. If we know we live with our multiple inner sources we can form alliances and allegiances that help us. Over time we can form them into resources and aides. It may be that the process may be less or more challenging but at least we can know to expect challenge of kinds we might not have expected.

AH! Or should it be YIKES!

Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt

Roger B. Burt’s Amazon home page

Creating Characters and Plots by Roger B. Burt

Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples in Partnership

Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health by Roger B. Burt

Hey Author! Do You Think You’re in Charge?

 

The Same Question To You

We all like to think we are in charge of our lives and, at least to some degree we are. But the author of fiction has an essential problem because he or she is creating something. The process can be surprising.

I’ve come to believe that we live in an emerging universe. As our sight has improved we see what a dynamic place the universe it and we may accept its creativity or fear its dynamism. The same alternatives can be seen in our personal world close in. We each have to deal with what we may be in charge of.

Where Does Writing Fiction Lead Us?

For a long time I felt moved to write fiction but the demands of my life always got in the way. There were thing like marriage, children, a job. They demand our time.

When at last I had the luxury of focusing on stories stirring in my head I found I was not alone. Earlier I talked about the evenings in a valley in northern Maryland and the spirits who dwelled there. Well there were other spirits, or characters if you will, who were nearby and I did not suspect them. They became demanding and, in their own way shaped what I wrote.

My Own Expanding Universe

I thought to write one book but swiftly it became a trilogy. And now it seems there may be a fourth book. At the same time I have to silence callings to other elements that keep developing and creating other stories. Having to deal with this insistent gathering was not in my plan.

In some way it is another set of personal waves. I believe in waves in the lives of humanity personally and collectively and that we have our own life but it is part of the lives of the collective. That means we are never entirely in charge.

Focusing the Challenge

Is that bad? In the end it is essential to see it as enriching. How boring otherwise. We might as well be sitting isolated on a desert island. One essential focus is on where we may be going collectively. Of course as a small individual in the larger crowd we must understand that we are not in charge. And, of course, we can ask if humanity as a whole is in charge.

More recently we are finding evidence of the fundamentals of life in asteroids and are assuming they exist on other planets. That means in a broad sense the universe is alive. Of course our religions have always led us to believe in greater beings but too often we turned in and believed it was all about us and our deity. But, what if it is merely a universe of a living form and that we may find our way to a larger and more diverse future than we had ever thought might be possible.

The Creative Universe

As I’ve been writing my Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy I was constantly thrust to the point where it kept expanding into a larger and larger framework which imposed the thought of a living universe calling us. I haven’t created any of that and wonder where I’m being led. Do I think I am in charge? Not really!! 

Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt

Roger B. Burt’s Amazon home page

Creating Characters and Plots by Roger B. Burt

Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples in Partnership

Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health by Roger B. Burt

Demands Beyond writing – Promotion and Its Complexity

It’s More than Creative Writing

Did you know writing would be this complicated?

In olden days a writer found an agent and the agent found a publisher. Sure that’s a little simplistic, but it was broad stroke for how it was before self publication. When my wife and I wrote our workbook to help stepchildren adjust to their new family a good friend took it into Doubleday and they published it. They sent us on a national tour including an appearance on the Phil Donahue Show. Those days are gone.

How It Is Now

It seems publishers only talk to agents and agents only talk to—I don’t know who. In short there is no easy way forward to get a book published, publicized and marketed. It seems it is mostly up to the author. Of course there are predators out there who engage authors and charge incredible fees for doing things which are of little use. I won’t go into that mess.

And Then There is the Promotion and Author Help Industry

There are books to help us write books, there are books to help us edit books and on and on. Advice pours forth from multiple sources and it is up to us to sort it and make sense of it. I’ve spent some years now reading sorting and in the end came down to trying it out. Some of the advice turns out to be dated, some spot on. 

The Best Advice

One of the best pieces of advice I read was to be patient. I’ve become quite clear that nothing works right away. It is said that there are 3500 “books” “published” each day. That comes down to a huge crowd and a lot of noise. It takes time to be noticed. The other things I got clear about was that things have to be tried and then we have to adapt.

Having a Thick Skin

Some things we have to listen to are writing related and some general publicity and advertising issues. But there is also reality. When the first of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy was published, the very first review on Amazon gave it one star. It was not to the reader’s taste, she thought the vocabulary was “too big” and she couldn’t write an effective sentence. Got that. And there it sat on the Amazon page all alone as I worked to attract other reviews. Who is going to buy a book with one star? It took some time, then the five star ratings showed up and the total climbed. Phew! The world is not an even, supportive place.

Being Fair With Each Other

One of the things I concluded immediately is that we need to be fair with each other. When I pick up a book and don’t resonate, I have to be honest that the issue may be me and not the book. We don’t all like the same things. I’m not much of a fan of word heavy literature or that’s what I term it. I want that book in my hand to be stirring and along with it my imagination and that essential thing in my life “possibilities” must call out to me. I’ll rate books but won’t rate books that are not to my taste. It wouldn’t be fair or reasonable.

Endurance

I guess in the end what I would say is that we have to endure and stay with our projects. Let’s face it, we like the creative writing process and some people accept it as a hobby and don’t expect to sell much and may not even try to promote it. It seems best if we weigh our goals and accept the complex noisy world in which we live. We learn to improve our writing skills and we have to learn what to expect and to accept endurance is essential.

Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt

Roger B. Burt’s Amazon home page

Creating Characters and Plots by Roger B. Burt

Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples in Partnership

Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health by Roger B. Burt

The Personality of the Artist (Painter)

 

Our Own Personal Style

While I did well in school it often did not hold my attention. Some things were fascinating and some things trivial. So frequently I “went out the window” which meant dreaming and exploring while the teacher went on his or her way. This process continued into graduate school. Some part of the subject matter was really interesting, other parts not so much.

As the time came closer for me to choose a doctoral dissertation topic I was working with a professor who held my interest. We were very different personality types but he engaged me and would challenge me in very useful ways. I liked that. He made me think.

Creativity Versus Intelligence

At the time he was studying creativity as it related to intelligence. Of course to some people that was a verboten area to explore. Creativity is simply supposed to be creative and that’s that. He didn’t view it that way. And his study came up with an interesting conclusion. Creativity and intelligence are orthogonal. Wow! Really?

Orthogonal is a rarely used word which means unrelated. The conclusion was that you could be really smart and not at all creative or really creative and not so smart in the ordinary sense. I liked that idea. It was what I would call unbinding. For one thing, we don’t have to put the creative types into scholarly straightjackets.

His studies led me to take a look at the literature about creativity in the psychological/psychiatric realm. What a hopeless morass. I did my major thesis (predoctoral) on the subject. I didn’t like what I found and neither did the professors who reviewed it. But it was what it was.

Eternal Gratitude to My Professor 

But It led me to discuss doing my dissertation on the personality of the artist (painter in this instance). My professor thought it worth doing. At the same time such a dissertation is risky. In psychology you are to demonstrate your grasp of the scientific method and it is usually safest to pick up on a line of study, tweak it and do a dissertation study. I decided to take the risk.

At the time the department was deep into the work of Carl Jung and that meant in part we were looking at his personality typology which had been translated into an actual test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Business people loved it, because once you know a person’s personality, it tells you a great deal about what jobs they will be best at.

Off To Hang Out With the Artists

The long and short of it was I set out for an art school in Richmond, Virginia. The faculty thought the study might be interesting so I went in and took photos of the paintings and paid the students the princely sum of $2 each to take the test. I had long and interesting discussions with the students and hanging out with them was great fun.

I took the data back to Duke and had the paintings rated on a variety of dimensions which then were compared statistically with the personality types. Most of the literature was floundering around in psychoanalytical thought. This time we had real evidence. And it worked.

Surprises and Validation

I’ll cut to the chase. Not surprisingly the majority of the students were primary intuitive types which fits because they were exploring visually and conceptually. There was a smaller subcategory of other types whose work was really, really different. If you ever see a dark painting of a bleak woods against an evening sky, the chances are you are looking at the work of a primary thinking type.

A couple of other things stood out. Contrary to expectations, the artists with thinking as an auxiliary had rich and deep color choices while the ones with feeling as an auxiliary had muted color choices. Some findings were consistent with hypotheses, some counterintuitive.

Validating Jung

And then my professor asked me to do a different analysis. He wanted to know if the primary determinant of the effect was the type or whether there was an influence from the degree of that type. The analysis validated Jung’s contention. Within type there was the matter of degree but there was little variation. It was the type far and away that determined the characteristics of the art. My dissertation was easily defended and accepted.

What did we learn other than what was stated above? We learned about the power of what Jung had put together. I validated my perception that the psychoanalytic floundering was trash. And again, we learned the power of personality among other things I won’t bore you with. The paper was actually picked up by a major psychological journal. I had many other thoughts about such research but have never found the time. It’s interesting what’s out there if you go exploring and again it validated by love of the “What if”.

I’m considering writing specific columns about the women in the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy. I think you would find them fascinating.

Are you surprised by any of these findings?

Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt

Roger B. Burt’s Amazon home page

Creating Characters and Plots by Roger B. Burt

Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples in Partnership

Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health by Roger B. Burt

The Psychologist Looks at Characters

 

 

An Emerging Character

Internal Conflict

Something emerged as I was writing the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy. It was a tug of war between a writer and a psychologist. One might think immediately that this conflict could be a real asset. The truth is much more complicated than that.

It seems likely that similar conflicts exist in other creative enterprises. My dissertation dealt with painters and how their personality might influence their work. In fact, using the personality typology of Carl Jung, it was clear it does influence their work. Is that information useful to the artist?

Might he or she step back and do a different kind of analysis of the painting taking shape? They might, but their art is not a cognitive enterprise. It seemed best for them to let their creative processes flow. I doubt the person considering their painting would really be interested in those kinds of contributions for something to hang on their wall.

A Different Kind of Challenge

The written word brings a different kind of challenge. Of course it is reflected in the particular form of that written word but a similar tug of war can take place. The very matter of plot and character interactions lends itself to construction and it is easy to slip into analysis which may affect content, direction and style. With characters we hope the reader will be attracted or repelled by them depending upon their role in the story.

As a psychologist there came a point where I had to deal with my own inclinations. In life I have to contain my analytical tendencies. In seeing friends or in social occasions doing dispassionate analyses of the people with whom you are interacting is not typically a good idea. In fact it gets in the way of life.

I have, from time to time, been told a person was disturbed by the feeling that I was analyzing them. Most of the time I was doing no such thing. That is, unless there were warning signals which indicated I needed to be on my guard for one reason or other. Sometimes you meet someone who seems intent on manipulating you and the situation. My inner psychologist kicks in at once.

Around the Edges

In developing characters there is an essential conflict. Spending too much time on the analysis can be stultifying for the story. Often there simply needs to be a flow. The character has to live within and emerge. At least that is what I’ve concluded. There may be other approaches.

A good example for me relates to my lead character in book 1 of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy. Avery is a bright, dedicated young woman but in the background is the fact that she had lost her parents in an early part of her adulthood. She wanted them back and had felt abandoned.

When she finds that she has another kind of family I wrote her as doing a lot of whining. Such a reaction under the specific circumstances of this story is completely understandable at least to me. But most people would contain it inside which is what I was relating to. When it became clear it wasn’t working I had to reconstruct her. It worked a lot better. Sometimes reality in storytelling simply does not work.

The Bottom Line

This example is what I, as a psychologist, had to view. I’m sure many writers have things they have to face in their writing—things that are coming from inside of them. It was not a matter of my personality but reflected my training. Each form of art has its own pitfalls and I suspect that many writers of fiction have to wrestle with components coming from within themselves. In some instances it may enhance the work or it may yield flaws which must be dealt with.

In what ways does the “inner you” affect your vocation or art?

Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt

Roger B. Burt’s Amazon home page

Creating Characters and Plots by Roger B. Burt

Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples in Partnership

Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health by Roger B. Burt