I was reminded today of this theory from Fay Weldon, which I first discovered on the Open University Creative Writing courses.
She suggests that every writer needs two personalities, who I call Ms Free Spirit and Ms Bossy.
Ms Free Spirit has to be, in Fay Weldon’s words, “creative, impetuous, wilful, emotional, sloppy” – and she is the part of the writer who produces ambitious ideas and wildly rambling first drafts.
Ms Bossy must be, to quote Fay Weldon again, “argumentative, self-righteous, cautious, rational, and effective.” She is the editor…and the finisher.
First drafts are incredibly difficult for me. It’s not that I don’t contain Ms Free Spirit (my inner teenager) – it’s more that I have spent a lot of my life trying to keep her locked up.
One of the difficult things about writing memoir has been that Ms Free Spirit has demanded a little more freedom than she is usually allowed. It’s also one of the rewards, as I begin to trust her a little more.
Ms Bossy is more readily available. She’s more socially acceptable and she’s had a lot of practice – she’s my inner academic, I suppose. I’ve always enjoyed revising and editing – to the point where I don’t mind completely restructuring a novel, or writing twenty or more drafts. Ms Bossy may be a bit of a perfectionist.
Ms Free Spirit is playful – essential when it comes to escaping that fear of the blank page.
At the beginning of a new project, she enjoys doing freewrites – setting a timer for ten or fifteen minutes and either scribbling completely randomly in a notebook, or writing on a specific topic.
She creates diagrams too. She’ll even get coloured pens out. They’re not quite mind maps – more loose clusters of ideas, characters, places, themes. It’s more like flinging words into the air and watching them drop on the page as if splashing paint onto a canvas. Associative thinking, rather than logical.
Ms Bossy might contribute some more ordered lists at this stage. She might collect together some names for characters and people. She might create a timeline. She might have some ideas for story points -what the beginning might look like, what the climax might be. How it might end.
Ms Bossy thinks she knows best. When she takes charge, she pins everything down tightly, she makes a step by step outline, everything rational and orderly, all surface cause and effect. She’s rational and critical and she kills everything that makes writing a novel fun until it’s stone cold dead. She’s killed two perfectly good novel ideas that way in the last ten years.
But without her, Ms Free Spirit, airy-fairy dilettante that she is, would never get anything finished.
Getting this pair of misfits to work together is something of a problem.
If I ever crack this, I will be unstoppable.
A relevant quotation from the book The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
“Actually, every writer needs two selves—the generative self and the editor self. In the early draft, the generative self shakes pom-poms at every pen stroke and cheers every crossed t. In a month or so, this diligent and optimistic creature gins out, say, two hundred pages. The editor self then shows up to heft the pages, give a sniff, and say: Yeah, but . . . The editor condenses two hundred pages down to about thirty. I don’t mean she cuts the rest; she may well boil the whole thing down so the same amount of stuff happens more economically. The editor self thinks only of saving the reader time and shaping a powerful emotional experience. She can’t turn her complaints and suspicions and doubts off. I find generative me harder to get going. But through sheer hardheadedness, even I can grant myself permission to run buck-wild down the page with sentences dumb as stumps and few glimpses of anything pretty. The idea is to get some scenes down. Let your mind roam down some alleys that may land in dead ends—that’s the nature of the process.”
This article on LitHub is worth reading – The Importance of Play
Also this one on Psychology Today about Freewriting
as practised by Yeats and Dorothea Brande, Jack Kerouac, and Natalie Goldberg, among others