constructing characters

Characters talk and now I listen

The stories and images that appear out of my mind’s eye cause me both pleasure and pain. I love sitting at the computer writing or at my cutting table constructing collages, but the experience also produces unwarranted anxiety.

I’m talking about personal creative pursuits here. When I’m being paid to produce something, writing or otherwise, the process and experience is less painful. Money and deadlines are both highly motivating factors.

When it’s personal, I’ll often do *everything but* to suck up time in my day. Come evening, I’ll fall into the couch and make excuses for why I produced nothing that day.

So, why all the procrastination? 

Recently, I listened to a podcast episode featuring author Patricia McLinn and, dear reader, it was a joyful homecoming. This is not the first time and it won’t be the last. I’ve been listening to authors, film directors and artists talk about their process for years. They never fail to inspire. 

Patricia McLinn said everything I needed to hear at a crucial time in my creative life.

Source: The Creative Penn

I hear voices too.

There. I said it.

Mostly I see scenes play out, often with a female character/s. Once I allow the scene, the voices kick in.

For years, I thought it was a terrible thing. Institution bad.

My gorgeous, down-to-earth mum would say, “Far out, you have a wild imagination”. She meant no harm – for a time, she plastered our kitchen walls with my drawings – but to my immature (and insecure) ears it sounded like, “why are you so different?!”

At twenty-odd years old, suffering my first bout of depression, I became concerned I was schizophrenic. A significant other from way-back-when didn’t help matters with his dismissal of any unpaid creative urge I exhibited. I started reading personal development books and engaging in a host of therapies to ‘fix’ me. Some of it was amazing and healed parts of my psyche that were bruised for the umpteen reasons one’s mind and heart will bruise. A few years later, I would study Buddhism and go to meditation retreats in order to calm my mind; bring it back into the Now. 

Truth is, I’ve been running away from the ideas, scenes and voices in my head for so long it’s all become wallpaper in the room of my mind.

But I’m in my forties now. The time is Now. I made a promise to myself last year, in the name of self respect: embrace the scenes, listen to the voices, produce the goddamn ideas OR give it up altogether and do something good and concrete for the world instead of obsessing over this creative malarky. Controversial I know.

McLinn’s advice offered important reminders to welcome my Power of Imagination. If I’m to produce stuff, I need to let it in. The imagination is not something to run away from.

REM_1.0 – ʀᴚ
(Acknowledgement to Auckland artist, Liz Maw – the original creator of the female protagonist.)

The author of 60+ books also touched on the requirement for financial security in order to create sustainably.

Source: The Creative Penn

Financial insecurity has plagued me for a decade or more. It’s a major reason I haven’t allowed myself to leave real life and embrace the realm of imagination.

Like many creatives of the past, women in particular, I’ve struggled to balance my need to create with the practicalities of earning a crust. I’ve never felt drawn to one specific vocation or job. I’ve had many jobs in many industries. It’s almost comedic. Heck, I disappeared into academia for five years hoping it would ‘buy’ me time to create. Crikey, was I wrong about that!

Yet, financial independence and the security it brings are vital to my creativity. When I feel insecure about where the next paycheck is coming from, all my energy goes into rumination and scarcity. It’s a lethal combination leading nowhere good.

I still have a crust to earn, but fortunately I also have hard won valuable skills plus the times have changed. The internet has made it much easier for freelancers like me to make money in the creative industries.

Oh, to be in my twenties now, how grand it would be (says the wistful GenX female creative). Kids these days have it easy.

Seriously though, I’m in a far better position now so I’m saying a big Fuck It and giving it my best shot.

There’s a waiting line of characters, situations and landscapes in my midst and I’m going to acknowledge them… appropriately… like a diligent bus driver who smiles at impatient pedestrians, clips their ticket and ushers them on board. But like a diligent bus driver, I will take none of their crap. 

Your turn, dear reader. If you’re reading my blog then my hunch is you’re a sensitive creative too (or a supportive and curious friend/member of my family). Does my experience resonate? How have you overcome the challenges you’ve faced as a creative?

P.S. In an exercise in vulnerability, here’s a wee glimpse into how I talk to my characters:

Me: Hi Maggie, we need to talk.

Maggie: Uh oh. That doesn’t sound like a pleasant talk. Am I in for a lecture?

Me: No. I’m eager to learn what you want from this story.

Maggie: That’s fair. Why ask me, though? You’re the one who determines the structure …

Me: Novel, interactive fiction, audio story or screenplay? Come on, help me out. I can’t decide.

Maggie: Well, you love writing dialogue. But I’m a woman in her 40s with a languishing writing career who adopts AI technology to draw her fans back. I’m not sure audio would do the story justice.

Me: Thank you! This is exactly why I wanted to talk to YOU. 

Maggie: So, the audio story is out. Also, why interactive fiction? Am I going to be in a ‘sliding doors’ situation? Is someone else going to determine my outcome? 

Me: That depends on me, I guess? Or we? Oh god, this is confusing. Is there a specific outcome I, we, have in mind for the reader?

Maggie: Definitely not we. When I think about being in a story, the things that come to mind are adversity, laughs, tears and a happy ending. I need a happy ending for my life.

Me: My feeling exactly.

Maggie: Sounds like a chick flick then.

Me: Fuck!

Me: Fuuuck! Not a chick flick.

Me: Anyway, we both know that screenplays don’t sell.

Maggie: Novel it is. 

Me: I don’t want to write chick lit! 

Maggie: It’s what I want. It’s my story, remember. Just tell it in your own way. I’m all for your kind of randomness… and you know how I like to talk.

Me: You do? I thought writers were quiet people.

Maggie: Not me. I’m a bit of a drama queen, which is why I’m going to screw everything up to resurrect my writing career. Because I’m addicted to attention. And I desperately want to be loved, but not in a healthy way.

Me: Whoa. Lighten up, Maggie.

Maggie: Go do your job, writer. 

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