Psychological resistance and creative writing

psychological resistanceThe concept of psychological resistance is nothing new, but it’s extremely important to know about it and its pernicious effects, if we want to keep improving in whatever we’re doing.

A classical example of such psychological resistance is when we take for granted that we already know all the really relevant and important stuff about what we’re doing.

Often, in such a case we discount any new piece of information because to examine it from an unbiased perspective we would have to challenge a lot of deep rooted perceptions and beliefs. We would have to challenge them with truth and reality, a situation that invariably leads most of us to experience fear, anxiety, uncertainty.

Yet, in life nothing is certain. And everything is in perennial flux. Heraclitus wrote about it something like 2,500 years ago. As a result of this perennial flux, it’s essential to understand that knowledge too undergoes a continuous evolution.

An evolution we cannot stop, but we can harness and put to good use, if we dare to. Continue reading

How to tell if your writing is improving – 4 easy tips

writing is improvingWhen it comes to judging our writing talent we can be incredibly biased. We can delude ourselves and believe we are the next big name; we can also be so critical with ourselves we end up believing we only write rubbish.

Indeed, even the most balanced aspiring writers can feel discouraged and have the impression that despite their best efforts they’re getting nowhere. In particular, they feel their writing isn’t improving in any significant way.

Now, even if it can be difficult to be objective about our own work, this doesn’t mean it’s an impossible task. And indeed, the following suggestions can help us to assess our own writing with at least a certain amount of equanimity. Continue reading

Describing characters in fiction – literary techniques

describing characters in fiction In a previous post about memorable characters in fiction I wrote that writers must offer their readers many occasions to get to know the characters populating their stories.

In fact, just as in real life the more we know about someone the more intense our feelings can grow for that person, the same happens in a novel.

However, given that any work of literature, even the lengthiest one, is always an heavily edited and condensed version of reality, we must choose with care which scenes to include in our stories and which are instead better left out.

For example, if in our book we describe Ms. Jones going through an endless series of only relatively trivial incidents, we can rest assured our readers will put down our book and find something better to do.

Of course, if we really want to write some experimental book full of meta language and self referencing remarks, and discard any description of characters in fiction, nobody prevents us from doing so. But then we shouldn’t be shocked to find out readers wouldn’t touch our brainchild with a two meters long pole. Continue reading

The simplest solution in creative writing – understanding Occam’s razor

Keep it simple, this is a mantra so short and appealing that we end up thinking it must be always true. Unfortunately it is not. However, once we understand what the simplest solution means in creative writing, we can really step up our writing style.the simplest solution

What is Occam’s razor, and why the simplest solution?

In short, Occam’s razor is a principle stating that, among competing hypotheses, the simplest one should be preferred.

However, this is just a tool, and like any tool it’s far from perfect.

In fact, the preference it accords to the simplest solutions is such not because these have been proved to be always the correct ones—not at all. Rather, Occam’s razor gives preference to the simplest solutions because they are the more easily testable.

The fact they often are also the correct ones is just a nice bonus.

For example, just think of the stars we see in the sky at night, think of the way they seem to move.

One theory could claim all the stars are moving around us, and the Earth is still.

Another theory could instead claim that it is the earth that revolves around its axis and the stars only seem to move as a result.

Of course, without any additional element it could be quite difficult to discover which object is actually moving and how.

But as soon as we use a telescope and can observe other planets revolving around their axis, Occam’s razor can be used to give preference to the simplest solution.

In fact, while with the first hypothesis we should have the earth standing still at the center of the universe and all the other planets revolving instead on their axis (two assumptions), with the second hypothesis we only need the earth doing what all other planets do (one assumption).

Please do bear in mind this is an extremely simplified example. In any case, enough of bad astronomy for today. Continue reading

The role of art in society, the ultimate mind map?

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.role of art in society

As the quote from Hamlet makes it apparent, Shakespeare knew quite well that the world around us, just like the one residing in our head, is simply too vast and rich for an artist, any artist, to ever hope to describe it in its entirety.

This might seem like a terrible limitation on our ability to create art. It also seems to undermine the role of art in society. Instead, I believe this apparent inability, this sort of limitation, is one of the strong points of art.

Arts and maps

In fact, just like Borges points out in his On Exactitude in Science, maps that are so rich and detailed as the territory they are meant to describe are quintessentially useless.

The reason is simple. Maps are by definition representations of a limited number of features of a territory. In a way, they are products of simplification as defined in the Oxford Dictionary: the process of making something simpler or easier to do or understand.

And indeed, allowing us to focus only on such a limited number of aspects, stripping the territory of all the features not pertinent to the task at hand, they help us to make sense of a reality that otherwise might prove too complex and overwhelming to manage. Continue reading