Have you ever thought up a perfect put-down, got excited enough about it to rehearse the whole scenario in your mind, then realised you’d never do it? I’m guessing we all have at some point. It’s human nature to revise situations you were unhappy with and replay them differently, but if you’re a writer and you get completely excited about the ‘draft scene’, you might be on the road to mischief. In fact, I’d be suggesting you get back to your manuscript asap, because chances are your creative flow is leaking out into places where it could cause trouble.
Let me give you an example. This morning I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth when I suddenly remembered it was Saturday (FYI: for full time writers every day is Monday). So I’m thinking, “I may get religious people knocking at the door today”. In actual fact, I’m pretty sure it’s Sunday that they visit, but don’t let that interrupt the story. I’m brushing away and thinking about how ten years ago (when I had a husband) I used to listen to their opening spiel and then say, “My husband doesn’t allow me to discuss our beliefs at the door,” at which point the poor guys practically ran, not wanting to upset my fictitious ‘husband is the head of the household’ arrangement. Divorce and my conscience got the better of me and I had to stop saying that. I’m old enough to remember parents and grandparents relationships when husbands really did tell their wives what to say and do, and they got away with it, which irks me no end. So now I deflect my religious visitors by saying, “I’m really sorry, but I don’t like to discuss my beliefs with people at the door. It makes me uncomfortable,” and that works a treat. They’re always respectful of that and they put their leaflets back in their briefcases and we wish each other a great day. Trouble is, that does nothing to stop them harassing the next person in my street.
So this morning while I’m brushing my teeth I’m thinking my current exit line is not enough. I’m thinking that these guys don’t get why it upsets people to have someone else’s beliefs brought to their door. It’s intrusive and . . . what? I’m searching my feelings, and I suddenly realise that this isn’t just a lie I’m trotting out. I really do feel uncomfortable discussing my spiritual beliefs with strangers. I want to keep that private, between me and… well, it’s private! But these people at the door have no discretion. They want to blab all about their beliefs, and they need to understand that not everyone does. Someone needs to tell them, and all of a sudden I’m thinking that someone is me.
Before you can say ‘rinse and spit’ I’ve worked out this whole dialogue where I let them get into the spiel, and right at the point where one of them says, “So do you believe in God?” I turn it back on the poor hapless woman by saying “When was the last time you had sex?” In my mind she stares at me in horror, and not only that, she can’t speak for shock. I don’t smile. I’m too into my own righteousness, so I follow this gem by saying, “How does that question make you feel? Are you upset with me because I’ve asked you about something that’s private to you, between you and your husband? You’re uncomfortable now, aren’t you?” Maybe she nods, maybe she doesn’t. But I wind up by slapping down my Ace, “And that’s how I feel when you want me to talk about God.”
Back in the real world I’ve just snapped the floss off the container and I’m staring at myself in the bathroom mirror thinking High five! Nailed them. But even before I can begin to floss I realise what I’m doing and the bottom drops out of my moment of elation. I’ve just created an imaginary Louise character, because I would never do that to someone. Not because I can’t. Because it’s not me. I might get feral if my hot buttons are pushed, but it’s just not in me to deliberately upset someone who hasn’t provoked me.
So what’s with the scenario? Why bother to create it? Well, as a writing mentor I can tell myself exactly what to do. Get the hell back upstairs to the study and write. I’ve got banked up creative energy leaking out that needs to be in a story. I’m feeling confrontation and conflict, and that’s due to happen in the next scene of my book, so I don’t need to create it in real life. My characters have broad shoulders. Instead of drawing it into my own life, I can let them cope with the anger and the upset and the afterburn.
Consequently, as soon as I finish this blog, I’m back to that. But the question I want to ask you is, do you ever do this? Do you ever create scenarios in your mind about how you’ll right past wrongs or do things differently in the future, complete with setting, dialogue and action? If the answer is yes and you’re a writer, my advice is to get back to your characters and let them explore the emotions you’re stirring up in yourself.
I’ve met hundreds of writers through teaching and mentoring, and was able to identify that some were creating real-life dramas around themselves while they weren’t writing. Miraculously, when I could lure them back to the keyboard to express their passions there, life around them settled down. Drama queens turned into domestic goddesses, and they were happy! Can’t stress that enough. When writers aren’t writing, they’re not fulfilled. Realistically, though, we don’t expect to be happy all the time because we need to grumble about the struggle to get the words out, or get them right, but while we’re at the keyboard working there’s a satisfaction that I don’t believe we can get in any other way.
Over time I’ve come to see that the more sensitive the writer, the more they need to express themselves because bottling up the flow creates mental, emotional, and even physical symptoms. You can step away from the keyboard, and we often do when life intervenes or some psychological problem is sabotaging us (and I’ll discuss some of those issues in the future) but unless we return to the catharsis of writing we’re not quite whole, and our partners, lovers and spouses need to know that!