Voices in my head

[NOTE: This is the same blog entry as I posted on the ACFW Colorado website] A few days ago, I think it was on Facebook, I saw these words: "Writers are people who haven't given up their imaginary friends." (Jacob Nuckolls). All the characters in my mind started to laugh hysterically. “And you never will get rid of us,” they yelled. This started a string of memories and thoughts.

When I worked for the federal government, we were required to take a class on “Violence in the Workplace” every year. One particular year, we discussed the traits of someone who is likely to become violent, or in the vernacular, “go postal.” Two of the top characteristics for these potentially dangerous people were they spend a lot of time alone and they listen to the voices in their heads. Less than a week later, I was at a writers’ conference workshop talking about how much time writers spend alone and how they deal with what their characters tell them to do. So, how safe is it to spend time with my writing friends, especially the fiction writers? And should I be warning my family to keep an eye out for weird behavior?

We do spend a lot of time alone with our computers, tap, tap, tapping out our stories. There is no other way to get our stories out, but we need to build in some safety factors to maintain our sanity. Here are some things I’ve found help me. First, add in some exercise. Just a little physical effort, like walking round a block or doing a few stretches can refresh your mind. Second, connect with other writers. This can mean going to a writers’ group meeting or just sending out something on Facebook so you don’t feel alone. Third, make it a point to be involved in an activity that gives you regular contact with other people. This might be something at your church or another social activity. It could also be a group which helps you to improve your skills in an area related to writing such as Toastmasters so you can build your platform.

That brings us to dealing with those voices in our heads. It is important for me to listen to those voices because they are my characters. They know themselves better than I do and they show me who they are with their actions and their words. I develop their personalities as I write down what they say and do. But sometimes they are like little children. Sometimes I have to tell them to calm down or to do something different than they want to do. It is similar to when we get advice from our critique groups. We are the authors and we are the ones in control. We need to look at what our stories and where we want to take that story. We can accept what our characters and critique partners say or we can reject it. Never give away that control. Then we have to deal with the other voices in our heads – especially those that try to step between us and our writing. For example, there is the self-editor that keeps telling us to change what we’ve written. She can help us improve our writing or she can get in the way of our creativity. Another voice is the one that says what we write isn’t good enough. Sometimes this means we need to work harder and learn more. But sometimes it is important to smash this one and send her to her room because she can stop us from submitting and trying to get our work published.

One more thing about listening to those voices in our heads – if they tell you to do something off the sheet of paper or off the computer screen that will harm other people, it is time to stop writing and get some professional help.

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