Friday, 11 May 2012

Control freaky - Nicola Morgan

I have issues with control, I know. Sometimes, I dare say my need to be in control is out of control. And how's that for a paradox?

I'm also fascinated by control, whether we actually have it and what we should do with it. I'm fascinated by free will, specifically. We need to believe we have it, otherwise there's kind of no point, is there? No point in trying hard if free will is an illusion, if we're really just puppets on the end of a few axons and synapses.

This becomes extra interesting when you start to think about artistic inspiration. We like to think, as writers, that we are in control of our words. They don't come from anyone else's head, so they must come from ours. And, of course, they do. Sort of. Somehow.

But the evidence is that we are not really in control of our words very much at all, or at least at the stage when they come from our head to the page as a first draft. If we were, once we'd learnt all the skills, we would be able to write anything we wanted. I could write in the style of Ali Smith or Charles Dickens, picking the precise words. I could write satire, sci-fi, literary or commercial, given that I know the vocabulary, know the rules and conventions, can use any literary device I wish.

But of course, I can't do any of those things. I don't really have nearly enough control over the first draft, and never would be able to in a million years. No writer does, even the best in the world. I may wish to write something commercial or romantic or poetic or whatever, I may have in my mind an image of the story I want to create, but each time I sit down to do it, what comes out is pretty much what comes out. It spews or trickles out and all I can do is try to control it once it has.

This thing that inspires the words. The process between "This is what I'm going to write about" and the actual writing. What is it and where in the brain does it hide? How does it work? How is it possible? In a way, the question is, "How is art possible?"

Doubtless, the answer lies largely in the subconscious, heavily dependent on the emotional limbic system. There's fascinating stuff about free will and the subconscious here, though a better article in Sciam Mind isn't available without subscription. That article discusses research that shows that "The brain acts before the mind decides. Electrical signals in the brain precede the conscious decision to move by at least half a second and often much longer."

Freaky!

Well, we may not be fully in control, but we are responsible, for both our actions and our words. And I think that's as much as I can hope for. To be held responsible for what my subconscious does. And then  to do the best I can with what comes out.

I like to think, however, that I can manipulate my subconscious somewhat. I can feed it dreams and thinking time, energy and emotions, light and space. I am also completely convinced that it responds extremely well to chocolate...

Writers, artists, how do you tame your subconscious?

10 comments:

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Superb post Nicola. I am currently at the mercy of my subconscious as I'm just finishing a draft. I often start with an image and a storyline but feel that it is my subconscious that roots out the idea and throws up words, images even smells like flostam and jestam which I am then responsible for shaping.

Susan Price said...

I've tried in the past to control my subconscious, Nicola - but it just refuses to play. Now I let it have a free hand. I'm waiting for it to get back to me about a possible book for Barrington Stokes. I know it will do a better job than I could!

JO said...

I'm fascinated by this dialogue between the notion of responsibility and the apparent fickleness of the unconscious. It is vital to writers and artists, of course - without it those random words that pop from nowhere would be so turgid we'd never want to revisit them.

But that's not good enough for the burglar who suggests it was his or her unconscious at work!

Nicola Morgan said...

Jo - re the burglar, exactly! That's why I think that we still have to hold ourselves responsible. OUr subconscious can and does push us in certain directions but overall I do absolutely believe our actions are down to us, and that we work at least in partnership with our subconscious.

Susan - if I give my subconscious too much of a free hand it plays on Twitter and FB all day!

Thanks Lynda. yes, that's what it feels like to me.

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Texanne said...

You don't need to "tame" your subconscious--just get it on your team. There are a few tricks to this, to be sure. :) Too many for a comment box.

Katherine Langrish said...

I am conpletely at the mercy of my writing subconscious. It is the Rum Tum Tugger. It will do what it do do, and there's nothing I can do about it.

Revision, now - that's where I take over!

Carole Anne Carr said...

I've always been a frightful extrovert, especially when performing in front of a large group, and I just let that instinct take over when writing my children's books. It seems to work. :00

womagwriter said...

For first draft writing you're better off NOT taming your subconscious... Many writers (I'm one) talk about times when they're 'in the zone' writing and feel as though they're just taking dictation from their characters. That'll be the subconscious at work.

The conscious mind can come out to play during the editing process!