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When I first dreamed up Swithin Eliot, the would-be protagonist of my then unfinished novella, he was entirely mine. I would set aside four hours a day, call him to my side, and go about the work of committing him to the page. All of this was done according to my vision. 

Several months into the project, something happened: an imperceptible shift occurred and suddenly, I belonged to Swithin. From then on, he sat beside me at the office and whispered prose in my ear. He tugged on my sleeve during conversations, rested on my knee at meals, and followed me into the shower (shocking, I know). Swithin, unceasing and unshakable, refused me even a moment’s peace and although my own creation, it felt those days like he held the cards. 

This character I once possessed had taken possession of me. 

“The best subject,” well-known author, journalist and historian Richard Rhodes attests in his How To Write: Advice and Reflections (HarperCollins 1995), “is always the subject that possesses you once you find it, that you can’t stop thinking about,” but what to do when that subject becomes a disruption? What then? Can an overbearing subject with the power to dictate when you’re free to work and when you’re not really be considered a positive force? 

Every writer with success in mind must ask him or herself, will I a.) take possession of this idea or b.) allow it to possess me?  If you answered “a,” you’re on the right track to a successful literary exorcism. For the rest of you, here are three easy steps to take control of that pushy character.

Step 1: Have a good laugh. 
We’re all familiar with the tortured artist persona. The angst-ridden, sulky-faced, lofty-speeched, beret wearing, cigarette smoking writer. Through film, television and, ironically enough, literature, this problematic image has gained a fair amount of clout. The good news is this doesn’t have to be you.   

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Writers who can’t see beyond the momentous significance of their project run the risk of forfeiting their power. “You,” they’re saying to their characters, “are much more important than I am.” But where would that character be without them? Trapped in the blank book of unwritten ideas, that’s where.

Devotion and dedication are must-haves in this business and a sense of humor about yourself and your character will keep those qualities in check. Trust me, breaking into a smile from time to time won’t rob you of author status. Go ahead, laugh. I promise I won’t tell.

Stay tuned. Steps 2 and 3 coming soon to a blog near you!

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent points. Will try and explain this to the voices in my head….

  2. Show ’em who’s boss, Susan!


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