The Id Factor, or finding your inner alligator

So Freud, right?

I think most people who never got interested in psychology probably know Freud as the guy who said boys and girls are in love with their mothers and fathers respectively and want to kill the other parent, and oh, my God was he crazy?

Those who may have whisked through some psychology at some point may know this isn't a fair outline for the Oedipus complex, and without being open to some deeper understanding then yes, it probably does sound mental. His work and character have been trashed over the decades and unfortunately the very good stuff often gets overlooked by bad retelling of the things people don't want to hear. By this I mean examine the phrases "Mummy's Boy" and "Daddy's Girl" and see if there's not some gender power/conflict going on.

Anyway, I digress.

Let Your Id Be Your Guide...but only at first draft

Recently I was pondering on the experience I've had when assisting development of or beta reading new writers' work. Those who know me very well will attest to the fact if I put something on the page I'm happy to say it to someone's face, too - this is good and bad stuff, I'm not a total monster. I think it probably comes across better in person because of the human aspect, but it's not the only century that written contact has been used to express feelings about anything, so it's not an unusual method and should therefore be examined objectively and not personally.

Continuing, the point is that the reception to criticism is very, very different to the reception to praise, and though it may seem obvious (we like being praised more than criticised, yes), I haven't looked at criticism as a bad thing for a long time. I actually love it. It's made things so much easier for me to be told what does and doesn't work, what's confusing, what's not, what's absolutely fab and what's tosh. I'm generally disappointed with seeing high stars and no comments, than I am low or medium stars and plenty of comments. It's not just me, I know a great many writers now who take criticism in their stride and manoeuvre it to their own devices, and I suppose it made me take step back and examine how I give criticism with the Freudian ideas in mind (pun unintended but accepted).

When I was in college (and this is UK 16+, not university for non-Brits) I took psychology at A-level. It was just at the time psychology was getting popular at the pre-university level (and probably why now the market is saturated with psychology graduates with useless degrees). Much of it I found to be fairly navel-gazing, like much philosophy (which has changed a bit for me), however, there were some things that, when looking back, make a lot more sense when you're older. This isn't about Freud per se, but the research into something that I would hazard guessing affects most writers.

The id, the ego and the super-ego - according to Freud, the three interacting agents of the psyche. Really simply, the super-ego is the critical, moralising centre, and the ego is the rational, organisational centre, which mediates between the other two. It is the id - the instinctual, aggressive, needy desires - that I'm interested in here. Physically, the brain is actually separated into growth parts, too. The oldest part of the brain, the reptile brain, would reasonably be where the id resides. Like an annoyed alligator it would eat your face without a second thought or an ounce of guilt. It wanted it took it's done. 

smiling alligator
Why is he smiling at me?

I'm actually quite a fan of delayed gratification. All the more because of that Tom Hiddleston sketch with the Cookie Monster, but I digress. I like build up. I like mystery, I like sweeping romance and whirling fantasy and complex tales. I like to be confused until the end and then have the 'aha!' moment. I love it.

But I am so damn impatient when it comes to my own work. I want it done, and I want it done now. I have managed to control that over the years. I have learnt to not throw everything I've out at once (by out I mean publishing) before it's been filtered and tested, but the want of completion RIGHT NOW is still there.

So this is the id. It wants things now and it doesn't care if it's not finished or what other people think, or that you often put 'the the' instead of 'to the'...

Now, rollback, and look at the new writer (or the writer that has written a lot but hasn't published any of it). That big thick manuscript sat on your table (and yes, I mean you should print it out) is your new baby. Your conception, your nurturing, your feeding, your allowing of your soul to intertwine...such beauty... And then you have to show people the result.

I can guarantee you, if you show people you know pictures of your brand new human baby, if it's ugly as sin they won't say (unless they are brutally honest). Deep down you know full well they feel it, but you'll lie to yourself and pretend it's perfect. Luckily for human babies, they can grow out of being ugly (some babies are hideous, don't pretend otherwise - I had a proper fat head as a baby), but unless YOU take charge of your manuscript, it will never not be ugly. Because all new MS' are ugly. They are misshapen, badly formed, ill-expressed and noisy pieces of work.

ugly little thing
Aw! Ain't he cute!

Another problem is the validation question. You've poured yourself into this work with all your blood, sweat and tears, and if you let someone read it and they don't like it then you will have no more blood or sweat or tears and will die.

It's not true. You'll still be alive. You will find yourself hurting for a fair while because your id wants gratification now. Other people's attention and affirmation not given swiftly can hurt your id and it starts to cry iddle tears... (sorry). Anyway, we'll come back to this in a later blog.

I guess what I'm saying is that the writing process can usually be boiled down to the power of three. Three is also known as the liar's number, but again I digress (and I suppose, in an abstract way for us it isn't untrue...). Three parts of the psyche - id, ego, super-ego. Three parts of the writing process - draft, edit, polish. Three parts to a story - start, middle, end. Even if you get a stageplay that is one act or two, you'll see the three formula in each of them.

Yes, your stages will overflow, interlink, cohabit and suchlike, but you process will always start with that spark of inspiration. That's your creativity going on, your id making stuff up, so what you need to do is allow it to take over at that point.

When you develop your story.

When you develop your characters.

When you develop your worlds.

When you make up names.

When you make up animals.

When you see that map in your head.

When you're inventing languages.

When you're writing your main character like kings of cool Samuel L Jackson or Steve McQueen and giving them kick-ass dialogue.

Let your id be your guide.

As with the previous blog, all that stuff you read and absorb into your ever-expanding cranium about writing should be cast aside for now. What you want to do is let your ideas splurge out, for want of a better term - you want everything you've got for this story that's been stewing your head on that page.

If you find you run out splurge (and I'm anticipating a thesaurus visit at this point) go somewhere else, go for a walk, throw sticks to the dog, and then you can refresh your reserves.

What you should not let yourself do at this stage is give into to your ego. Don't let your ego tell you your work is stupid (that'll come later when it's the ego's turn). Don't let your ego tell you your work is too short, or too long, or that dialogue is ridiculous, or stop making up words...again, this comes later. At this point, if it does, then allow your id to gnash those alligatorial teeth and put the ego back in its stupid rational box.

While you are in your writing space, no idea is a stupid idea. And every time your brain thinks of something more and more fantastical is another moment it's being let free to show you just where your imagination can take you. Your reptilian id is where you can truly explore all those primal emotions and darkest thoughts, in a quiet and isolated writing space where no-one will ever know.

Most writers are introverts. Where actors get their energy from acting out these dark and primal emotions, but where do you think these ideas really come from? The people who write their scripts, or the primary sources for their scripts. That's you, you know?

So let your id take over while you're getting ready to share a story with the world. But only until you put that full stop at the end of your first draft.