By Kathryn Craft
Storytellers know that on the page, internal conflict is a writer’s best friend. But when that conflict emerges from voices inside the writer’s own head, where each wants to weigh in on the writer’s path and her way of walking along it, things can get confusing. Like a GPS whose discordant voices are offering multiple routes simultaneously, they may just slow you to a standstill.
Might we not say to the confused voices, which sometimes arise from the depths of our being, Ladies, be so kind as to speak only four at a time?
We writers are sensitive to these voices because of the way they intrude upon the deep, solitary thinking our craft requires.
If you think about it, every single decision in a writer’s life must be coughed forth from some internal compass. There’s no one to tell you when to work, or how to tell if you’re getting better, or how much social media is enough. Those who work in a company talk such things over at a water cooler, where the extreme position of others allows you to take a stance. If Ed is the pessimist and Julie the timid risk manager, you are free to be the forward thinker, the one who pushes the others by saying, “But why not?”
Those who work alone engage in those same conversations—in their head, where the voices playing devil’s advocate don’t feel so helpful.
Some of our inner voices obsess over the tough truths of our lives and call it like they see it. A writer is an entrepreneur whose business may fail for a decade or more before seeing monetary return. While typing away late into the night, a writer is a student earning no degree; an intern with no mentor. A self-employed dreamer whose bitchy boss and recalcitrant employee both live inside her own skin.
Her left-brained half—lets call her “L”— is constantly putting new programs in place to re-organize, compartmentalize, and otherwise tame her unruly life so that the writer can make good use of her time. L is the boss. She fills all the lines in the planner. She has a get ’er done bent.
Her right-brained half is innately improvisational. Prone to breaking into song at inappropriate times, R flounders between blind faith and unrelenting pessimism. L wants to outline, but R gets lost in the flow of writing and misses turning points. L says to record life before forgetting its rich detail and R flits away from the computer to go out and live it. When L dictates exercise every morning, R says, “You can’t make me.” Some days L gets a workout just chasing R around the room.
But two halves don’t make a whole. Move over, L and R. Other voices want prominence. Fear of Success and Fear of Failure will not be squelched. Needs Validation wants to duke it out with Needs to Call the Shots. Demands a Book Deal tussles with Writing is its Own Reward. And no matter how loud the Cheerleader yells “You can do this!” we hear the dirge of the Statistician: “Do you even realize how small the chances are of success?”
Oh, we know inner conflict. We have enough characters in our own heads to people an entire novel.
But when you get to the point where you’ve written something that every single one of them is truly proud of, a miracle happens. For a moment they will stop fighting for prominence, look in the same direction—and weep like babies. Because every single one of them helped you get where you are right now.
Writers have no need for a water cooler at which to whine about their work. We chose this life because it suits our natures. Yes, all of them. They may have different strengths, and different ways of going about things, but after decades of working together, my inner natures finally realized that they’re all playing for team Kathryn, and that they’re all desperately needed.
Internal conflict need not be maddening. If we can keep our natures pointed in the same direction and harness their teamwork, they are perfectly suited to transcend the difficulties of the writing life.
And then, the warm glow that comes from self-love and the palpable impulsion of inner teamwork will drive us deep into the length of the creative night, making all aspects of our chosen path much less difficult.
K: Well done, team.
R: Let’s go celebrate with an ice cream sundae!
L: But it’s only 8 a.m. and I have you scheduled for another 2,000 words…
Okay, ’fess up—I can’t be the only one. What inner nature are you struggling to overcome? What used to stymie you, that you’ve now made peace with it? Let this, for one communal moment in a solitary endeavor, be our water cooler…
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, will be released through Sourcebooks 0n January 28. To read more about her book, check out her author site, KathrynCraft.com. Pre-order links are live at bn.com and amazon.com! Her second novel, While the Leaves Stood Still, is due from Sourcebooks in Spring 2015. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves anything that brings writers together—conferences, workshops, retreats, and blogs like Writers in the Storm. She also blogs at The Blood-Red Pencil and at her personal blogs, The Fine Art of Visiting and Healing Through Writing. Connect with Kathryn on Facebook and Twitter.
Author of THE ART OF FALLING Coming from Sourcebooks January 28