The Psychology of Writing: My journey so far.

We’ve all heard the advice “write what you know”. I thought this meant write only what you’re familiar with, physically. I’m wrong. Or at least, I’m not all the way right! You should write what you know, but you should also write what you’re passionate about.

That led me to my current WIP, a novel called Kit. It’s science fiction but its main plot is about psychology. It’s about what it takes to recover after being raised by kidnappers who were horrible to her. It took me several drafts to figure out the exact story that I wanted to tell. Like most pieces, I had to understand my characters, both the protag and the antag. This meant going back to the beginning and getting in their heads.

The problem with that, of course, was getting in their heads. With my protag, it was a bit of trigger for my anxiety and depression. I had to feel those things to write her authentically. I did research, using psychology books to truly understand her. I found myself in them, too.

Which led me to writer’s block as depression took over again, and my anxiety wouldn’t let me continue research, let alone write. That’s an even bigger problem. I had this story I wanted to tell, to bring light to mental illness. That depression spread through every part of my life, including my faith in myself to produce something worthwhile. Who was I to touch upon such a subject?

I’ve always been interested in psychology, and I started writing when I learned to spell. At first, writing was just fun. I loved it. Then it became a coping mechanism in a difficult time in my life. What I wrote wasn’t great, but my friends liked it. I started getting serious about writing probably 5 years ago. I’m an avid reader, but I hadn’t read a book on writing until I got serious. Now I can’t stop reading them.

One of the recent books I discovered used psychology and brain science to try to fight writer’s block and resistance. It helped a lot and made me understand some things about myself. So, I started therapy for my anxiety and depression. Being serious about writing, I knew I had to fix this. How could I be a writer if I could never sit still and write?

Our brains are made up of parts that are supposed to work together. The two parts I’m going to focus on are the limbic system and the creative cortex. The limbic system consists of multiple areas in the brain that control several things, but one of them is the flight or fight response. It’s the part of the brain that recognizes fear and makes us aware of danger. The creative cortex is the part where we can be (can you guess it?) creative.

As it happens, when the limbic system hijacks the driver’s seat, it pushes the creative cortex into the trunk and locks it. I envision the cortex as the driver, and the limbic system as the navigator. Usually. We certainly couldn’t write authentic scenes without the limbic system. Our characters react to the danger, and we as writers draw from our own experiences, given to us by the limbic system. We need the limbic system to survive. It’s that primitive part of us. It’s the part that remembers dangers and pain and then makes us ready to react.

I, like most humans, am always looking for a reason why. Why, when I’m super stressed, can I not sit and write? Why does my brain go back to every little thing that’s gone wrong when I’m anxious? Why am I freaking out about my ability to write rather than just writing?

As it turns out, the limbic system makes it nearly impossible to be creative when it’s in charge. This is not to say that the limbic system stops us from writing, but rather we’d probably find that what we write is stagnant, maybe even not the right style. Our word choices are off, we’ve created the wrong air in our work. In fact, our work is probably not working.

So, then, how to we force the limbic system back into the passenger’s seat and get the cortex working the controls again? The cortex has little idea that it’s locked in the trunk.

We must learn to recognize when we’re too anxious to write well or write at all.

Stay tuned for some tips and tricks.

Kayla Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.

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