Author’s Note: Origins
I have always been a student of the creative process. During my early years in college, I was introduced to the work of Dostoevsky. I read of all his novels, short stories and a couple of biographies. From this man and his bizarre work, I became interested in writing and made my own first attempts at poetry and fiction.
Also during these initial college years, I was introduced to and fell in love with Greek tragedy. Sophocles had a major impact on me. From the story of Oedipus, I found my way to Freud and the “Oedipus Complex.” I read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams.
It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I actually began work on a novel, and I was still as interested in the creative process as I was in the actual writing. There might be a certain amount of truth in the statement that I started writing to learn about the creative process. I instinctively realized that it spoke to something basic about the human condition. But I aborted my first novel after a hundred pages or so because I didn’t know where it was going. I ran out of story. I was puzzled about my failure, and wondered why the story didn’t reveal itself to me as I imagined it would.
Several years after this failed attempt, I started and finished another novel, but I knew it was rather rambling and not properly plotted. I attended some workshops on plotting and came away even more confused. I started reading books on screen writing and drama because they seemed to know more about the structure of storytelling. I came across the concept of the Premise, and the plotting process I would later use myself started to take shape.
During this time, I read the comments of other authors concerning the nature of the writing experience. The interviews in The Paris Review were my primary source. A little later in life, I went through five years of psychotherapy; and following this trying but illuminating experience, one of the most important events of my life occurred. My company laid me off. Instead of trying to find work immediately, I decided to spend my time reading about ancient Greece, and planned an extended trip about the Greek mainland and islands. Prior to leaving, I read everything I could get my hands on concerning the archaeology and mythology of ancient Greece. At the same time, I planned to use my newly developed plotting methods while writing an extended narrative of my journey through Greece.
I spent ten weeks traveling Greece alone. When I returned, I edited and expanded my travel narrative into the work I’ve had on the Internet for the last eight years and I recently published in paperback. It’s titled Oedipus on a Pale horse.
Afterward, I continued my research into the religion and myths of ancient Greece. My primary resources were the writings of university professors, classicists published by university presses. Early in this period, I came into contact with the writings of Karl Kerényi and Carl Jung. I had always known of Jung’s work because of his association with Freud, but I had never explored his writings to any extent. I had viewed him, naive as I was, as Freud’s junior partner. Surprisingly enough, I had never heard of Kerényi. These two would become my newfound heroes. This research was really exciting because I realized that I was uncovering the psychology of writing.
Freud had always been highly interesting, but Jung’s theory of the human psyche interested me even more. I’d had many experiences during my life that had gone unexplained, even through the five years of therapy. Jung came as a revelation. His explanation of the connection between human events and mythology was simply mind-blowing. Karl Kerényi was a professor of classics and the history of religion. He wrote a series of books in association with Carl Jung on the archetypes from Greek mythology that served the ancients as patterns for human existence. Through the writings of these two, I delved deeper into this crossover field of psychology and mythology, and ran onto the archetypal psychologists James Hillman and Murray Stein. It was as if I’d found the Rosetta Stone for my own psychology, as well as a guide into the internal creative process of writing.
Then in the fall of 1999, I was approached by the head of the Continuing Education Department at New Mexico State University at Carlsbad to teach a couple of courses. She’d heard that I was a writer and interested in mythology. “Something on novel writing and Greek mythology,” she said, “would be of interest to our older students.”
I was already primed. Since most of the students, who would be taking these courses, were college educated, some even retired teachers, I could treat the material as if I were teaching graduate school. My years of research could be put to good use. The course on Greek mythology, I taught primarily from the writings of Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. For the novel writing course, I pulled from everything I’d read through the years concerning storytelling: novelists, playwrights, screenwriters, and narrative non-fiction writers. I injected good doses of Jungian and archetypal psychology.
While developing the material for the two courses, I continued to be amazed at how connected the two subjects are, that novel writing, all storytelling really, is an outgrowth of the same psychological processes that had, through the millennia, created myth. Jungian psychology goes a long ways toward explaining the techniques used by novelists, playwrights, and screenwriters. All my research into these different disciplines came together as a sort of critical mass, which resulted in an explosion of ideas concerning the craft of novel writing that I describe here.
My methodology is not the traditional approach used in creative writing. I will not tell you how to combine the words to make effective sentences and paragraphs or to describe a scene. That is taught in many wonderful textbooks and classes in schools throughout the world. But what you will not find in these classes is how to actually put a novel together. This deficiency I hope to correct with Novelsmithing.