A short while ago I went to London with some friends to see the Beatles musical ‘Let it Be’. We sang along, did a lot of arm-waving (Hey Jude!) and despite the limited space, got up and danced. You just can’t help yourself, can you?
Well, some can, apparently. Among the swaying throng, a few remained stalwartly in their seats, allowing themselves a gentle nod of the head or tap of the foot but that’s all. (I am talking fit and able people here, by the way.)
We all know someone like that, don’t we? In the midst of a standing ovation they’ll be the one person in the row glued to the seat. You’ll never see them jumping up and down and yelling ‘Home you go!’ as their horse crosses the finishing line. Their child won’t suffer the indignity of the decibel-busting ‘Go on son!’ from the touchline on Sunday morning in the park. (That could be a bonus, mind you…)
The kind of person I’m talking about isn’t necessarily shy or lacking in confidence. They can’t let go. Simple as that. Oh, they wish they could, no doubt about it. The frustration’s etched on their faces but something inside always stops them. It must be fear, I think, fear of making fools of themselves but, more than that, fear of their own emotions.
It manifests itself in other ways, too. Such a person may not, for example, get a cat, even though they love cats, because sooner or later it will die and they’re afraid of how they will feel when it happens.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong or inferior about being that way, heaven forbid – we’re all different and what a boring old world it would be if we weren’t – but I was thinking about the types of people who turn out to be writers and whether it requires a certain kind of personality to be one.
I don’t know the complete answer to that, except I’m certain that the can’t-let-goers are not writers. I’m coming late to the party with this, I know, but when I first started writing I didn’t think beyond the inspiration, the ideas and the craft. Now I’m beginning to understand that in order to get inside the heads of your characters you must first get inside your own and take a long, honest view of what lies below the surface.
It’s about burrowing down and touching your emotions, trying to understand them and not being afraid of what you might find. It’s about being brave, taking a deep breath and letting go.
The same must apply, I think, to all the arts. A sculptor I know says that working quickly in clay allows her to express her feelings. I hadn’t thought of it like that before but clearly she too draws on her deeper emotions in the creative process.
Obviously I’m only scratching the surface here, probably naively since I’m no psychologist, but I’d like to know what you think so I’ll finish with a couple of cryptic questions to start you off.
Certainly, to be a writer you need curiosity, tenacity, patience and eternal optimism as well as a whole range of skills but providing there’s a modicum of talent there to begin with, most of those things can be learned or acquired.
Can you learn, though, to bring your emotions to the surface and let the world see what you’re really about, or do you have to be that person to begin with?
Also, has being a writer changed you in any way?