Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Words on Writing - As a writer, what do you find to be your greatest ally and your greatest foe?

L. V. Gaudet is hosting todays discussion on the Facebook group "Suspense/Thriller Writers".

Todays discussion is: As a writer, what do you find to be your greatest ally and your greatest foe?


Allies and villains, every story has at least one of each. Whether they are touchable and alive, their hearts beating within the paper and ink of the story, or intangible, that vague aching need for the approval of others when what your protagonist is really fighting is their own inability for self-approval. As writers we have to be well aware of both the antagonists, or villains, and allies in all their forms and how they affect our leading characters.

One adage we writers hear, perhaps more than any other, is the theory that you write what you know. In other words, you write what you are, and you are what you write. That, my fellow writers, makes you the very heroes and heroines, villains and allies, protagonists, antagonists, polytagonists (I made that one up, but what better a word can there be to describe one who flips constantly between the two ‘tagonists’, undecided what their role will be), every tree and blade of grass, and every conflict built into your stories.

This brings us to today’s discussion topic.

What do you think is personally your greatest ally and your greatest villain? Every writer is the true hero/heroine of their stories. After all, those people and their stories come from you.

As a writer what do you find to be your greatest ally and your greatest foe? Your conscious mind, critiquing before you even put the words down? Your unconscious mind, which perhaps has a tendency of throwing red herrings at you? (And was that term coined from the man himself, Red Herring, in which case that might not be a bad thing?*) Perhaps it is your research tools? Procrastination, which may be your undoing or may not become a surprisingly good thing? Is it helpful do-gooders with their unerring advice, best intentions, and often less than thought out comments?


As with many other writers, my personal list of antagonists and allies are numerous. My very mind, its conscious and subconscious manifestations ever at odds with each other like the little cartoon angels and devils depicted on the shoulders of characters at a crossroad with a difficult decision to make, can perhaps be considered to take up three slots on both sides of the list. One, their very inability to work together; two, my ever-critical conscious mind’s desire to edit the piece to death; three, my subconscious mind’s tendency to work at the most inconvenient times, always pushing me, never letting me forget what I love, writing, and throwing its best inspirations at me in a cat-and mouse game of ambush. All of these, I find, work both against me and in my favor.

My ever elusive pencil, forever hiding when I need it most, is usually on my bad list. This could lead to a whole new debate, on what is superior, the pencil or the pen.

But, of all the things that are a part of me, the protagonist, the writer, and those which come together to help shape my writing and bring it to life, the two that top the list are procrastination and the ability to completely lose myself in my writing.

Procrastination, the greatest villain, in my mind, that ever existed. What great things could have been achieved if not for the devious touch of procrastination? How many wonderful novels are not filling the shelves because of the grip of procrastination? Dreams unfulfilled? Cures discovered? This is my personal foe, my greatest villain, hog-tying me and holding me back. It is much too easy to say, “I’ll do it later.” Sometimes, later is much later than intended.

My greatest ally to my writing, I think, is my ability to completely lose myself in my writing, to become a part of the scene, a part of the world within those words. The words flow through me on their own, faster even than I can type. The scene swirls about me, the world beyond the story fades to the background. The subconscious mind, with its complete freedom of inspiration and creativity without judgment or fear of being judged takes over. This is where my best writing comes from.

* The term “red herring” does not come from the comedian, nor from the greater and more popular comedian Red Skelton’s skit “Munson’s Red Herring or Freddie and the Spies (1959)”, although Red Skelton was something of a red herring himself. It comes from the use of the strong-smelling smoked fish, also used in training young hunting dogs, to mislead hunting dogs from the scent of their quarry.

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