Déjà Vu All Over Again: I had one of those spooky feelings about my work last weekend. I’m sure you writers have experienced something similar, or at least I hope you have. I’ve had several versions of it. I have found myself able to perfectly picture places I’ve never been. I have felt I was in the skin of characters I’ve never met or seen anywhere else. I’ve wondered where story elements came from even as my fingers tapped them out.
It’s been one of the most amazing parts of my writing journey. And even though I have written outlines in the past, and plan on continuing to explore better and more efficient ways to plot and outline in future works, I hope I never stop having spooky epiphanies and instances of literary déjà vu.
Whapped By My Muse: In this past weekend’s instance, I suddenly knew something about my historical fantasy series. I have four finished manuscripts—a trilogy and its prequel. At the end of the trilogy is a built-in spring-board to move the story forward. And I’d always had ideas, nearly a notebook full of them, for the day when I can actually continue the story. My spooky feeling this weekend came when I was noodling and writing my weekly facebook history post about a small group of actual historical figures—Goths and Romans. I started a sentence: “Although none of my characters is specifically based on…” And I got stuck. I stood up, stretched and went for more coffee to work out the rest. I poured the coffee and stood staring out the window, and said aloud to myself, “It’s almost as if the trilogy was about their parents’ generation.”
And voilà. My wheels were spinning so fast, I could hardly get the surge of ideas down on paper. It was as if my muse had whapped me upside my head and was standing there with her arms crossed, nodding in satisfaction, but saying to herself, “It’s about time you got it!” If I can pull this off, it’s going to be as if all four of my manuscripts had been specifically designed to lead into this exact series of events. The stars had aligned, as if it was always meant to be—as if by magic.
Channeling Ancient Terror & Tumult: I said that the spooky feeling is one of the most amazing parts of my writing journey. And my writing journey has been the most amazing of my life. Of course the emotions that surface are not always happy. But the emotions found are my own, and therefore an important part of my journey toward self-knowledge and personal growth. Even the sadness and grief I’ve found in fiction are cathartic. They help me to recognize and order my emotions, as well as to release those that are buried or bound up inside.
The tragic events in Boston this week remind me of my most profoundly haunting and emotional writing experience. It occurred during the writing of book three of my trilogy. Beforehand I’d read an account of a historical atrocity, and I immediately recognized it as a part of the motivation and mindset for my characters’ actions. The account was brief and very prosaic—maybe three paragraphs.
Reading about the atrocity hadn’t particularly moved me. It was just another terrible, cruel thing one group of people had done to another; history is rife with such behavior. But I knew it belonged in my story. When it came time to write the scene, a funny thing happened. Now I knew the characters involved. I knew it meant death for a few and immense pain for many others. I put it off… for weeks.
The day came when I could put it off no longer. I steeled myself and sat to write. The scene poured out of me as if from a broken dam. It came out fully formed, and has required almost no revision since. The moment I finished typing the final, tragic sentence, I leapt to my feet. I walked laps around my house, unable to draw a satisfying breath, tears streaming down my face. I finally threw on a coat and walked to my bench on the beach. I sat and sobbed. Until my black lab, Belle, could stand my odd behavior no longer, and nudged me to play Frisbee with her, as if to remind me that life goes on. She has a way of doing that.
Immortal Feelings: But the experience serves to remind me of the importance of fiction. Terrible events are marginalized by time and distance. Atrocities become history, which becomes prosaic. Until we are brought to the proper perspective. Writers offer that perspective. They say we write to be immortal. They say we write to make sense of the world and to seek ourselves. I think there is truth to those things. But my experience makes me wonder if we write to make sure that events remain immortal as well. And not just to make sure the events are unforgotten, but that the feelings evoked live on, as well. History cannot be allowed to become prosaic. Atrocities should never become statistics, and cruelty should never be a footnote.
Mystical Connection or Cognitive Complexity? I’m still not sure if my connection to the atrocity was somehow mystical, or if I was simply releasing my own pent up, subconscious grief. But I know it was a significant moment in my life. Whether my work is published, or whether another soul ever reads it or feels even a fraction of what I felt, it is significant. And I’m grateful.
My answer then applies here: “In a recent discussion about the mystical versus the scientific in regard to writers having a muse, I weighed in on the side of the mystical. I believe there is so much more going on than can be easily explained. Those on the other side claim that the seemingly amazing story elements that occur as if from nowhere are just a byproduct of our brain’s complexity—the result of accessing our cognitive subconscious. Even if the science proponents are right, it’s still pretty damn magical to me. Even if I’m self-deluding, why would I want to live in a world without magic?”
I still stand by my answer, even if I’m still self-deluding.
Have you written to the spooky feeling? Do you think it’s mystical or cognitive complexity? Or does it matter? Would you rather just join me in potential self-deluding than consider it?