“I didn’t know what I was writing about until I’d finished the book.”
Have you ever heard an author say that? Have you ever said it yourself?
It’s happened to me more times than I can count. As authors, we can be blind to the themes in our own work. I have a theory — often, what we’re writing about is influenced by what our subconscious is secretly grappling with. If we can recognize those issues and themes, we can use them to deepen and strengthen our writing.
First, let’s look at why we may not recognize these emotions and themes. In my experience, writers are often not self-aware. Oh, we’re great at identifying feelings like panic and self-doubt, but we’re not always completely cognizant of how events impact us physically and emotionally. Here’s another theory — as writers, we’ve trained ourselves (or have been born with the temperament) to turn our attention outside, not in. We worry about what other people think, what other people are doing or saying or feeling, and not about what we think or feel. This creates a disconnect between what our emotions actually are, and what we think we’re feeling. We insist we’re happy and relaxed, for example, even when friends or family point out that our hands are clenched or we’re scowling.
So what do we do with all those churning thoughts and emotions we don’t acknowledge? We push them into the bottom of our busy brain’s caldron, where they bubble and combine and eventually threaten to spill over. Now, this disconnect isn’t limited to writers — emotions are tricky territory for many people. BUT — writers, unlike their normal counterparts, have a way to work through what’s bothering us, often without being aware that we’re bothered. And it’s these unacknowledged emotions or issues that help to shape our story and give it cohesiveness. It’s the wound under the bandage of words that the reader senses but never sees, and if it’s done right, it leaves a mark. [Read more…]