Self-Knowledge: A Writer’s Best Friend

by | May 22, 2018 |

Oops! I already identified the Plot Buddy as a writer’s best friend. Now I need to enlarge my notion of ‘best friend’ to include self-knowledge.

Consider this the second installment in my quest: Recovering Creativity. I reiterate my hope that the account of my quest will inspire you to go on one of your own.

My quest is being guided by  Julia Cameron‘s Vein of Gold. A Journey to Your Creative Heart.

Self-Knowledge: Getting on the Path

I finished the Narrative Timeline that I’ve already groused about. It got easier the more I approached the present. I acknowledge that establishing the timeline felt like tilling the psychic soil, turning it over to prepare for new growth.

Now I’m doing exercises that require even more digging around in my psychic stuff. These are much more fun but still, at times, challenging.

What’s the point of all this?

I got the glimmer of an answer in Cameron’s explanation:

“When we work regularly with the tools of autobiographical self-expression, the private act of self-disclosure affords us the public luxury of privacy. Privacy differs from secrecy. It has little to do with hiding something and far more to do with protecting something – ourselves. What our privacy protects is not our dignity; that is inviolably ours as a soul. What our privacy protects is our Creative Child.”

That’s the project in a nutshell: first recovering then protecting the Creative Child.

Self-Knowledge: What Happens in its Absence

Some years ago I would see a particular car here and there in Durham and Chapel Hill. You couldn’t miss it (and I haven’t forgotten it). It was some old 1970s American car with a bad paint job … with little doll arms, legs and heads glued all over the hood, roof and trunk.

I never saw the driver but I guessed she was a woman – a very traumatized woman who was traveling around town exposing to all the world her pain and suffering. My point here is: her pain and suffering were completely unprocessed. Her expression was brute, unanalyzed, personal and not offered to the world in a form that could speak to anyone else’s pain and suffering.

She was clearly an artist, but her Creative Child was neither recovered nor protected.

Self-Knowledge: An Exercise

I’m still in the first part of Vein of Gold, The Kingdom of Story. Here’s an exercise I found both fun and surprising. It’s about Secret Selves.

Cameron points to Walt Whitman’s idea that each of us “contain multitudes.” We are not one self, we are many selves. She writes, “Contacting the jostling crowd of inner selves, giving them a chance to speak and to act, can greatly enrich our lives.” It’s the selves we don’t acknowledge and don’t accept that give us trouble.

She challenges the reader to: 1) Make a list of five Secret Selves; 2) Look in their closets and see what they wear; and 3) Convene them like a Board of Directors meeting, ask them a question and see how each one answers it differently.

I immediately made my list in terms of the things I do normally: Writer and Traveler – in other words, already acknowledged selves. It took me another day to enter the real spirit of the exercise. I ended up with Wanderer, Linguist, Stand Up Comedian, Socialite and Diplomat. I gave them the names Curious Cat, Witchy Woman, Jules, Juliette and Henry, respectively.

Then I looked in their closets and knew immediately what each one wore except Witchy Woman. How could that be? After teaching linguistics for so many years, I would have thought I’d know best what she wore. Now I have some food for thought.

Finally I asked them a question and immediately got five different answers, all worthwhile. Curious Cat and Witchy Woman confirmed certain choices. Jules told me what I already know to do next. Juliette and Henry game me advice I need to act on. As Cameron says, these selves have a collective wisdom.

I am not sharing the question I asked only to protect my Creative Child. I can confirm that this exercise really works. However, I’m guessing you should do them only after you’ve done the Narrative Timeline and turned over a lot of deep psychic soil.

See: Writing Inspiration

For more writing tips, visit my complete guide for writing a novel.

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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