Have you ever considered why you write or create? Is there a deeper reason? Just thinking about this topic can inspire you and enrich your writer’s journey. Then of course it’s time for another brainstorm using Exquisite Corpse. Seriousness and silliness never held hands quite so tightly as they will today…
SHOW TRANSCRIPTION (does not include Exquisite Corpse game play at the end):
Have you ever asked yourself why you write, or create? I mean, really sat down and thought about it – or went for a walk just to pace it out and think it through?
You might think the answer is so obvious, what’s the point in even asking it? You enjoy it, it’s fun, exciting. As a writer, you get to create new worlds or characters that other people might get to experience, too. And there’s that enormous sense of satisfaction when you’ve edited something to perfection.
But if you write most days of your life, or find yourself thinking about writing a bit every day; if you really have a passion for it, there are likely to be some more reasons hidden back there, perhaps in your unconscious mind. Today, I’m going to suggest that those reasons are useful, even practical. I think they contain the seeds of insight that will help inspire you and take your writing or your creativity to a whole new level.
I realise now that I’m claiming that inspiration is inspiring – but it is!
You might not believe that you have these extra hidden reasons for writing that are worth mulling over… But I would argue, just thinking about what’s important to you, what your real values are, what you’d most like to put out into the world – and that’s not necessarily about writing, it’s about your whole life – this, in turn, can give you a new focus. I’ve experienced that – I can vouch for it – it works.
Now, there are some really good motivation speeches on the internet by various people, often actors, usually given at graduation ceremonies, which can help get you into the mood for thinking about this. The one that made a difference for me is by Jim Carrey which I’d recommend if you’d like to really delve into this, because he has such an unusual take on it. He likens what you do creatively to “the church of”. He asks, what is the essence of what you are bringing to other people, that’s unique, and he suggests trying to work out, what your unique church is? He realised as he was growing up that he was becoming this comedian to try and distract his mum from her illness and her pain, and so his was the church of freedom from concern. He brought that with him into his whole career, it flavoured everything he did – and does. It sounds like a strange way to think about it, but I found it a really useful exercise to try.
However you choose to get there, having a defined purpose or a clearer sense of why you write or create can really help open you up to new ideas. It’s weird, because it might sound like as a narrowing down of things, if you’re saying, “I write because I want to bring this specific feeling or atmosphere into the world”, or “I’m really fascinated by these particular ideas or types of characters or situations that seem to crop up in most of my stories, and I want to see where they take me, what they tell me.”
It’s possible that if I’d only considered my purpose for a short while, or without deciding to go for a walk to pace it through and then making sure I wrote down as much as I could on it, then that second example – I might have settled on that. (“I’m really fascinated by these particular ideas that keep cropping up in my stories and want to see where they take me, what they tell me.”) Because that actually describes part of the psychological process of writing a new idea: you follow a little spark out of sheer fascination and curiosity, and see where it takes you. So this one might ring true for almost any writer – but is it your ultimate purpose for writing? Does it go far enough? You have to go quite deep on this, take your time, to really pull out your best reasons, your grandest reasons for creating, because what you create is a form of communication to other people. Readers will hopefully read your stories some day and be taken somewhere, feel something, experience something they’d never experienced before.
I’m going to share something quite personal with you: the essence of my purpose in writing, as much as I can explain it. Maybe I could call it the church of imaginative power, but that doesn’t quite say it all, even though Jim Carrey’s exercise has helped me get as close as I have, to defining this part of me.
I feel like there’s so much in life that seems to try and “shrink” who we are, our sense of who we are, and what we’re here for. As we get older it feels like we spend a lot of time doing chores, jobs full of admin that doesn’t really matter, and all this menial stuff crowding in on us seems to shrink our view of ourselves – because it’s what we do, what we have to do with a lot of our time. But I want to open up people to a grander view of themselves, as part of something bigger, and to remember the potential they have. There’s something else going on beneath the surface of normal life, and personally, I find stories to be the best way to help revive that feeling, which in turn might lead us to a place where we can experience it for real.
I believe in the power of imagination. Nothing was ever done that wasn’t imagined first.
Does this all sound a little bit vague? These things are notoriously difficult to describe – to completely encapsulate. I honestly think that this is just the nature of higher-truth stuff. And if you get it right, it might even sound cheesy… but that’s just the way it is.
Put it this way, though: if I could explain it all completely in a way that totally satisfied what I wanted to say to you right now – then I wouldn’t need to write novels and stories, would I? Where there’s an urge, there’s an incompleteness. Where there’s a hunger, there’s something that wants to be satisfied; that can’t be immediately satisfied. So I’m glad I can’t explain it perfectly, because if I could, maybe I’d get it out of my system, that might be the end of it.
This is partly why it’s hard to ask yourself the question. You feel like you’re wading through clouds, these vague shapes that can never be absolutely defined, and you might even feel silly reaching for them. But this is partly why it’s such a great exercise, to just try and see what you find.
Why are you creative?
If you decide it’s “just” for entertainment… (I’m making inverted commas right now with my fingers, which I realise is not necessarily helpful on a podcast.) But here’s no such thing as just, here, because entertainment still means giving a kind of joy to other people. It’s up to you if you want to explore where that joy comes from, and see if knowing that might help you better define what you’re about, what your writing’s about.
And of course there’s also a writing prompt here. The better you get to know your passion, or a memory that sparked it all off for the first time, or just what it is you’re trying to say through your stories… You could try writing a character who has that same passion, except that they have a totally different way of going about it. Or they might have the essence of your passion, but instead it’s for sword-fighting or… goblin collecting. Give it a go, it’s worth trying. We often do this unconsciously with character-building, picking out aspects of ourselves or bits of memories and then blending them with other personality traits and experiences we’ve never had, so why not decide to do that, with something as big as your passion.
I said that there would be psychology of writing in this podcast, but really, you are the best psychologist of yourself. All I can do is offer prompts; but sometimes that’s all you need to set you off on your journey. And if your journey is all the richer, then your stories and characters will be, too. We write what we know; but we also write what we reach for. That’s not always knowledge. It’s the mystery at the heart of it all.
Well, if that was a little bit heavy for episode two, never fear, because it is time for… THE SOCKS OF DESTINY!
That’s right. It is time to play Exquisite Corpse. The socks are bulging with little bits of paper, bulging with possibilities. Thank you to everyone who’s been sending entries through my Play Exquisite Corpse page at annatizard.com – let’s see if your words come up this time.
Now if you want to use this as a brainstorming exercise yourself, please feel free to pause the podcast whenever I’ve pulled out a set of five entries, and have a complete sentence. You never know where any one of these results may take you, down the creative rabbit hole…
Exquisite Corpse game play is not transposable... Please listen the last section of the show to enter a realm of deep silliness and inspiration!
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