This week in my Cognitive Science of Fiction class (at the University of Oklahoma), we’re talking about the psychology of writing. Specifically, we’ve been talking a lot about whether writers are more likely to perceive writing as an act of creation or an act of…
Thanks to everyone who’s answered so far! I find diving into other authors’ processes this way so intriguing (and my class will be thrilled to see what you guys have to say!) In that spirit, here’s my own answer to one of the questions:
I never *believe* that my characters have free will, but I sometimes *perceive* them as having free will, in the same way that a person walking across a glass skywalk might *believe* that she’s perfectly safe, but perceive herself as being in danger of falling. (Philosopher Tamar Gendler has coined the term “alief” to describe this kind of subconscious belief-like thing that often contradicts an explicitly held belief).
So I never believe my characters have free will, but sometimes, I “alieve” it. The interesting things to me as a scientist is trying to figure out what factors influence my alief. For example, I think I am more likely to feel like my characters are operating independently of me if:
*I am writing, rather than rewriting
*The scene has more to do with a character’s emotions than a character’s actions
*The character in question is a secondary character
So basically, I perceive myself as having more control over my first-person protagonists than the characters the protagonists interact with, and more control over my characters’ actions than the way the characters feel about what is going on.
If any other authors want to chime in, please do! I’m sharing the answers with my class on Wednesday!
This week in my Cognitive Science of Fiction class (at the University of Oklahoma), we’re talking about the psychology of writing. Specifically, we’ve been talking a lot about whether writers are more likely to perceive writing as an act of creation or an act of discovery.
In the class, we do a lot of experimental design (yay, science!), and the first step of the scientific method is observation. Since I am a writer, this means my students have been probing the way that I think about these things, but I told them I would post their questions to tumblr to see if other writers (published or otherwise!) would like to chime in.
So if you have a few minutes and you’re a writer, I’d love it if you could answer one or more of the following questions:
1. Do you ever perceive your characters as having any free will? Do you feel like you consciously control everything your characters do, or do you sometimes feel like they control their own actions?
2. Do you perceive your characters as having more free will (or more of a “mind of their own”) if they are similar to you or dissimilar to you? Does the point of view you are writing in ever affect this?
3. Do reader/fan reactions ever change your understanding of who a character “really is” (or have you ever discovered something you did not realize was true about one of your characters based on feedback from early readers?)
4. If you’ve ever had a movie made from your book, do you think the movie altered your mental image/concept/understanding of the character in any way?
Anonymous asked: Hi! Just curious: What are your thoughts on teens who want to get their novels published, and have done their research and an extensive amount of editing? Thank you!
I wrote my first published novel when I was nineteen. It was the seventh novel I’d written. Of those seven, four were written while I was still in high school (or the summer right after I’d graduated). I know what it is like to be a teenager seriously pursuing publication!
Much of my advice for teens pursuing publication is similar to my advice for people of any age pursuing publication: keep writing and revising and getting better with each book; know that many writers do not sell their first book and that this is largely a persistence game; do what you can to defend the joy you take in writing; be professional and act professionally.
As for advice I have especially for teens—advice I might give Teenage Jen, if I could go back in time and talk to her—I would say:
Be extra kind to yourself, Teenage Jen, even though being kind to yourself isn’t necessarily something that being a teenager has prepared you to do. Writing and pursuing publication is not like anything else you’ve done. It is not like getting an A in school, or studying for an exam, or working to make first string on your sports team. It is not like any of those things AT ALL.
Acceptance and rejection are not solely about what you did “right” or “wrong.” And even once you sell your first book, Teenage Jen, even once you’re living your dream, it will often be hard. Because you will be *living* it, and the reality *is* hard, and selling a book is not the end of a journey, but the beginning. Be prepared, Teenage Jen, to essentially be running your own small business, because as a professional author, that is what you will be doing. There are so many things, Teenage Jen, that go along with being a published author, other than just the writing, and if you were to decide you were not ready for that yet, that would be okay. It would not make your writing mean any less.
Do not wish away the moments you have now, Teenage Jen. The nights when you are writing, the way it makes you feel, the joy you find in telling a story, how excited you get just to get a hand-written note on the bottom of a rejection letter. Enjoy being exactly where you are, Teenage Jen, because you will eventually come to the conclusion that NONE of this is about reaching some end-point or achieving some specific thing. There is no end-point! There is only the journey.
I have so much respect for teens pursuing publication. It is wonderful to work toward a dream! But I think it’s especially important for teen writers not to put too much pressure on themselves, and especially not to give themselves arbitrary deadlines. “I want to be published by the time I’m 16!” “I want to be published before I graduate college!” “I want to be the youngest person to X!”
Because honestly, guys, IT DOES NOT MATTER. You don’t get a prize for publishing young. If you are in this career for the long haul, if it is your dream to be an author, then it really doesn’t matter how old you are when you sell your first book. Because, if all goes well, there will eventually be a second book and a third. And you may find yourself reinventing your career many times over, and by and large, PEOPLE WILL NOT CARE how old you were when you published your first book. It will, in all likelihood, be pretty much irrelevant to your career as a whole. It is much more important for your first book to be the book best suited to launching your career than it is for it to be a book that you wrote when you were however-many years old.
The last piece of advice I have for teen writers is related to something that I am very grateful that Teenage Jen did (and that Teenage Jen largely has her parents to thank for, so THANKS, MOM AND DAD), and that is this: if you are pursuing publication as a teenager, that means that you will be entering an adult professional world at a young age. There can be tons of obligations that come along with that, and I am so grateful, looking back, that I made an active effort to not let writing (or publishing) stop me from having the experiences my same-age peers were having while I was starting my career.
I had a rule in college that I couldn’t write until everyone else had gone to bed. I didn’t *always* follow it, but the reason for the rule was that I did not want to miss out on other things—experiences that I could only have at that stage in my life—because I was shut in my room writing. I had to make an active effort to say yes when people asked me to do things, to get involved in activities, to explore majors, to DO THINGS that had nothing to do with writing. As an adult, there are many times when I have made sacrifices to write. I am very, very grateful that I didn’t let myself make those same kinds of sacrifices when I was in high school and college.
Melissa’s list of unfinished pieces sounds so reasonable! Mine include (I kid you not): *A book about a group of teen models who, due to a mystical mishap during a fashion show, end up stranded on an eighteenth century pirate ship. (Seriously. I wrote 25,000 words on this before I realized it was CRAZY). *A book about a girl who gets vision of the future, but only when she’s dancing. (She’s not a dancer! She’s a danseer! As in a seer!) *A book that my good friend Sarah Cross used to refer to as the Magic Swordfish book. (I actually finished this one, but was never quite happy with it and so did nothing with it. It involved immortals and grim reapers. And a swordfish, obviously). *A dystopian about a post-nuclear world in which a puritanical cult of vampires lives in the ruins of what used to be Yale. All of these, I might add, were written well after the publication of my first book… We will not speak of the bits and sundries written PRIOR to that…
After hours of revision, my eyes are fuzzy, so I was poking around my “incomplete_or_old” files. I ended up in one of the usual distractions: a 50,000 word children’s novel that I start revising every so often for fun. I have a version of it re-started as a YA, one where it’s modern, one where…