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Emily Hanlon: The Fiction Writer's Journey
Emily Hanlon : The Creative Process, How and Why it Works

The Creative Process, How and Why it Works

By Emily Hanlon

Creativity is a subtle and magnificent dance between the rational and the intuitive, between the left and right parts of the brains, between technique and imagination. Both partners in this dance are absolutely necessary and are needed in equal proportion, which means that imagination is not more important than technique and vice versa. If you only live in the imagination, you will never get organized, you will never complete your story. However, if you start from the rational, linear, organizational part of the process, (i.e. Gotta have the perfect opening sentence and first paragraph... better yet, an outline...) you will never fall into the rich, passionate cosmic landscape of the imagination where anything is possible.

However, the main problem I have seen in my twenty-five years of teaching fiction writing is over-dependence on the rational part of the equation. People want to get the story written and get it out. (Whatever that means?) They want to leap frog the process, get the words down on the page and finish the story. This is to symptomatic of the goal-oriented society that we live in, a society that is striving upwards toward success instead of embracing the deeper, more powerful and life changing journey of descent that takes us into the creative realm of the true self.

There are so many examples of ways we short-cut this life-changing process, but the one that comes to mind is the adage, "Write what you know."

Write what you know? This is not only boring but is contradictory to the basic core of creativity, which by definition brings into being that which has not been before. If you write from what you know, if you remain slavish to the facts of what happened, you are writing out of you conscious mind and will remain stuck in the straightjacket of your conscious perception of "reality." That said, there is nothing wrong with using your life or any aspect of your experiences as a jumping off point or a doorway into the unconscious. The key is not to be slavish to the known. Rather we need to have our writer's antenna on the lookout for the doorway into the unknown and the unseen. Gertrude Stein put it this way: "You cannot go into the womb to form the child... What will be best in it (your writing) is what your really do not know now. If you knew it all it would not be creation but dictation."

Paradoxically, when we write from the imagination we are writing what we "know" but from such a deep level of knowing that we don't know that we know it until it is revealed in our writing. This is often the truer aspect of self, the part that we do not readily show to the world, and sometimes do not show even to our self — at least not consciously. This is what makes the journey such risky business. This is also the great joy of writing; when we are true to the process, we discover worlds within we did not know existed.

An image I use to describe the intuitive journey of creativity is "falling down the rabbit hole" into Wonderland. This is a perfect metaphor for the creative journey which can never take place in the "real" or conscious world. Writing, whether it be fiction, poetry or nonfiction, finds its origins in the dark, fertile chaos of the unconscious — your personal Wonderland. If you don't meet Cheshire cats and Mad Hatters, Tweedledees and Tweedledums, mad queens, dragons, flying monkeys and monsters, or your version of the above, then you have not fallen. This is not to say you have to be writing fantasy or horror to open to your unconscious, but the journey must hold metaphorically a good sprinkling of both.

Although scary, there is tremendous freedom for you as a writer in "falling down the rabbit hole" into your personal Wonderland. It frees you from the narrowing confines of your conscious mind or what you know, or think, is "reality". It frees you from crushing, often paralyzing shalts and shalt nots of your Inner Critic. Why? Because the mind is the home of conscious, rational, linear thought, judgment, language and evaluation. This is the territory of your Inner Critic. If you rely on your mind to develop your stories, you leave yourself open to the prison created by your Inner Critic — that voice inside your head that says things like, "Not good enough... never good enough... you'll never be a writer. Go clean the house! Who wants to read anything you write..." Sound familiar?

So, what's the answer? How do you escape the Inner Critic?

Fall down the rabbit hole into your creative unconscious! The Inner Critic won't follow you there.

The Inner Critic is terrified of the creative unconscious because it is the home of feelings, emotions, images and it is chaotic and unexpected. The Inner Critic likes order and loves the status quo, which is antithetical to the creative unconscious. That's why if you "fall down the rabbit hole" the Inner Critic won't follow you! Free of the Inner Critic, you have the possibility of experiencing real creative freedom and passionate stories awaits you. Only then can the true dance begin! •

© 2008 Emily Hanlon. All rights reserved.

Emily HanlonEmily Hanlon has been a writer all her life and is the author of seven works of fiction and a book on writing and creativity. More »