Trauma and Creativity: Off the Beaten Path

The last couple of months have been a no-writing zone, and the medical issues responsible probably aren’t going away anytime soon. The devil’s brew of meds I’m taking probably has something to do with what I perceive as a cognitive decline. Not anything so serious that I can’t function more or less normally, but certainly getting in the way of sustained work on writing projects. I’ve also come to see this non-productive period as similar to the one I went through after the apartment building fire and having to start my life over. Call it trauma, or even a mild form of PTSD. It’s a psychological shock to the system, and it’s bound to have effects on intellectual function. But what I learned last time is that it doesn’t last forever. Even the destruction of the belief in a healthy old age has to be accepted, and adapted to. Unless I want to take on the role of victim.

In spite of the cognitive decline, which includes a loss of focus for sustained work, creative insights keep coming. Since my novels tend to take at least a couple of years for development and completion, the current slowdown doesn’t seem terribly significant. What is significant is that the bursts of creativity are based, as they always have been, on input from my reading, both fiction and nonfiction, including current news. When I can’t write, I read, as always, and probably more obsessively. And there is no way to anticipate what will trigger sudden insights into an ongoing piece of work.

A Well-Educated Boy isn’t the WIP I’m currently working on (or trying to work on), but it’s the one that’s developing most actively in terms of plot and characterization. One of the interesting things that happens when a novel develops over a long period of time is that it can change significantly from my original concept. In the case of Well-Educated Boy, the emphasis has been shifting from Hart’s discovery of what lies behind the peaceful facade of his hometown, to the psychological changes he goes through over the course of the novel. The strong influence here comes from several novels that portray, to one extent or another, the development of the central character from childhood to maturity.

Both as a fictional theme, and an aspect of real life that puzzles and intrigues me, the maturation process and the possibilities of future potential are an endless source of material for the creation of complex characters capable of surprising readers. Richard Herley’s The Earth Goddess was the first book to focus my attention on this theme, and is still central to how I think about my characters. That’s followed in importance by the Phoenix Legacy trilogy by M. K. Wren, and more recently by Lion’s Blood, an alternate history by Steven Barnes. What is important is the many different paths by which a character’s temperament and life might be formed, and how the one chosen or forced on them determines the shape of the fully formed adult.

In the case of Hart Simmons, his developmental arc ignores the usual young adult trope, in which our youngster overcomes a major negative force, such as an oppressive government, and becomes something of a hero. Instead, Hart has to acknowledge a power that is ubiquitous and fully capable of swatting him aside if he attempts to face it down. The question then is how he manages to live with that understanding without succumbing to hopelessness and acquiescence.

Well-Educated Boy is dystopian science fiction as well as young adult fiction, and this is another area where I want to ignore the usual themes in favor of something more complex and realistic. So Hart will experience two kinds of dystopias, the one in which he lives, as a citizen of a corporate-owned town, and the one taking place outside that cocoon, one not very different from our current reality in many ways. Compare and contrast.

A lot of this hasn’t been worked out yet, of course, so I’m prepared to be surprised.


6 thoughts on “Trauma and Creativity: Off the Beaten Path

  1. I’m still struggling – the brain has gotten reluctant to turn all the way on – and that’s the only way it can write.

    But preparation for writing – gathering all the bits for a scene – is just as important, and I CAN do that with less of a full brain. I’m trying.

  2. Sounds familiar. I have the feeling we’re both functioning at about the same level right now. Have faith that the rest will turn on. Body and mind heal at their own speed.

  3. Optimism is a choice – and I make it every time I can. But it isn’t natural for me, not after 27 years of battling CFS – with no help from the medical profession.

    But the other choice means I give up – and do what? Watch TV? We’re having trouble finding series to watch on Netflix or Amazon which are not horribly gory or full of (faked) sex. I’m not impressed with many of the current crop of writers – OR actors.

    I can’t read for much time, and I would find it hard (as I did these last few months when I had no choice) to get through day after day without something interesting. I can’t even eat – everything seems to remind me I shouldn’t have!

    So I sit at my computer and try – and every time I feel myself slipping into a very natural situational depression, I grab myself by the bootstraps and work myself out of it.

    Faith is the only thing keeping me going at times. But I’ve had some tantalizing days, and hope to get more of those back.

    I contacted my beta reader, and she’s still game, so I’m going to start sending her chapters as they get finished. Her intelligent comments last time were a major part of the pleasure of writing. Emailing her was my act of faith.

  4. Just back online and catching up after being off since 19 May. The techs over here are run ragged trying to fix all the phone problems that occurred as a result of the floods, hence the long wait. I was struck by your comment about how much a book can change when i’ts born over a long period of time. I was just thinking that about my Brisbane novel, which I’ve just finished the 2nd last edit of. It’s amazing how different it is in tone and even intention from the draft I wrote so many years ago. Keep getting well. These hiatuses (is there such a word?) are sometimes godsends for the thoughtful writer, even if they feel anything but at the time.

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