Monday, 22 September 2014

Emotional imagination

Sometimes, I can't seem to write fiction. I blame the fact that I've been writing almost only non-fiction for a couple of years - and have just agreed to do some more. When I try to get back into writing fiction, something feels dead inside. My brain feels like an imagination-free zone. And that is a desolate thing, like a moonscape without the moonbeams.

In October, I am going to write fiction. I am. For a long time now I have had that month set firmly aside, event-free, non-fiction-free. I've put in place all sorts of mechanisms to make this happen. I've told lots of people that I'm doing it. I've told my agent that I'm doing it. I've turned down paid work and told people that they cannot give me a deadline which involves me doing anything for them in October. At all.

And yet (or perhaps therefore) I'm very afraid that my imagination won't wake up, won't do its job, won't show me moonbeams.

Or I was until this morning.

A daughter phoned. My daughters may be in their twenties but a daughter (or son, presumably) is never too old to cause instant fear in a parent's heart when her number comes up on your phone. Especially at one of those times of day when daughters aren't prone to phone for a general chat.

Instantly, even before I heard her voice, my imagination was running riot. In that split second, this imagination had no words - it was all a rush of adrenaline and cortisol and raw, nameless dread. Emotion. Then her voice, "Don't worry, I'm fine." OMG, she's not fine. You don't randomly say you're fine unless you are about to say something not fine. And in the few seconds it took her to explain what the thing was, my imagination had, quite literally, taken me through visions of death, illness, job loss, burglary, injury (including actual details involving a bone), and a complicated combination of emergency services.

And after all this had calmed down (because she was, in actual fact, fine) I realised the key to imagination: emotion.

So, my October - and any time I or you want to write fiction - has to allow and encourage and nurture and conjure emotion. Maybe I'll read a poem each morning before I write; maybe I'll read the news - there's enough emotion in the human stories there; maybe I'll read a chapter of the best fiction I can find. Maybe I'll brainstorm sad words or angry words or whatever words I need to make it happen. Maybe I'll play anthemic, emotional music to waken my heart.

But I'll draw the line at asking a daughter to phone in the morning. Mind you, it's her birthday today, so I may just phone her...


Nicola Morgan writes novels. Oh yes, she does. She also writes non-fiction about the teenage brain and stress. BUT NOT IN OCTOBER.


Sue Purkiss said...

Good luck!

Joan Lennon said...

You will want October to last forever ... actually, that's not a bad idea!

Alison Runham said...

Definitely feel your pain on this one. It's not helped by the fact that practically all the non-fiction I write (and the editing I do) is commissioned, with definite deadlines and guaranteed pay - something that's rarely true for my fiction. So there's always that drive to get on and complete it; someone else definitely wants it, they're paying you, it's 'real' work. But writing fiction sometimes feels oddly like slacking, and I have far less confidence in a) getting good ideas b)whether someone will want it or not c) when they will want it, and whether it will earn enough to buy value baked beans... ;)

Nicola Morgan said...

Alison, that's so interesting that fiction feels like slacking - I feel the opposite! Fiction feels like the hard stuff and the stuff that makes me me, and when i neglect it as I have I feel bad. Fascinating differences!

Anonymous said...

I can see that emotion could be a good spur in fiction writing - but what if the main emotion your fiction engenders seems to be frustration?! Seriously looking forward to October to get the dreaded first draft over and done with. This book seems to be taking forever, despite starting so well.

Melissa said...

At my children's school, I've noticed that the school secretaries always preface a call home with 'Don't worry, everything is all right. I'm calling because...' Yes, I think imagination, fueled by emotion, moves faster than the speed of light.

Nick Green said...

Wow, Nicola. This completely nails it. It's the answer to that old chestnut of a question 'Where do you get your ideas?'

Of course, the answer is: they're not ideas at all. They're feelings. You can't write an idea unless you feel it. The best set-up in the world feels dull and hackneyed if it's not charged-up with emotion. And yet the simplest scenario, such as a 'cliched love triangle' could become the most original story ever, so long as it is fuelled by a rush of genuine emotion.

This shouldn't be news to any of us - but I think we need constantly reminding of this very obvious fact. The imagination runs on emotion. Without emotions, it's running on empty.

Thanks for that!

Nicola Morgan said...

Actually, Nick, I think *you* nailed it: "The best set-up in the world feels dull and hackneyed if it's not charged-up with emotion." It's odd because when kids ask me what my favourite books are I always say "ones that make me FEEL something."

So, thanks to you, too ;)

Katherine Roberts said...

I'm looking forward to getting back into the zone with you in October, too. Sometimes I'll write a short story (or a poem) for no reason at all... usually I'll toss it in the bin before it gets as far as my computer, but somehow the act of creating always makes me feel better!