Let’s say you are Hemingway. You are sitting at your typewriter at sunrise, planning to write a novella about the old man and the sea. Inspiration hits; your fingers dance.
As the Spanish sun rises inspiration ebbs; you start yawning (perhaps starting your working day at 4AM was that tad too radical), so you leave your post on the country veranda to get yourself a coffee.
When you sit back down at your typewriter, wooohooo! You didn’t realise that you had somehow drifted off so much that you’d sprinkled the last two pages with cheesy romance novel scenes. Perplexing enough.
So you go back in your storyline, skimming through the pages, trying to remember how on earth you got there. What was the missing link again? Between the rough wild sea and … that Valentine’s day proposal in a dinosaur amusement park?
Did you perhaps have something in mind — a brilliant intermission — but you were to sleepy to remember?
Anyways, since you are Hemingway and have profound trust in your genius, you don’t feel like just binning two pages of your precious output. Plus, you are not too thrilled to admit your mistakes and face the fact that you lost the plot. I’ve come up with this monstrosity, you think, so okay, let’s be a man make it part of the story. As you keep working on the next chapter, you employ all creative devices at your disposal to integrate the dream marriage in Paris into an expanded and improved storyline. After a while, you find yourself quite pleased.
So you decide to go out into the sun and have a good stretch and gaze at the sky for a while. Maybe even go for a swim at the beach.
As you come back refreshed and rejuvenated, you read back over the last pages of your manuscript to get into plot again. But heck!! The last page is an ethological study on Javanese lizards!!
You are surprised yet unwavering in your self-trust; and besides, there is no-one else here in the pampa with you, within a radius of miles. Not anyone who’d know how to use your typewriter in English, anyways. Your talented mind must have done this for a reason. So you persevere, enriching the storyline with lizards this time.
As you keep writing, at the back of your mind you can’t stop wondering why you did that, though. I mean, what did the lizard idea have to do with it? Did your unconscious mind maybe go from fish via amphibians to reptilians? Did you come up with the lizard as a profound metaphor for … whatever, renewal and metamorphosis perhaps?
… Repeat another time, and you start seriously psychoanalysing yourself. Was that random page about chakra balancing through headstand on a pea some kind Freudian slip? Is this what you secretly think of at night?
Perhaps, you start doubting your sanity; but to preserve it, you generate ever new twists in the plot, and ever new interpretations and justifications as to why these pages manifested in your mind. However, after a few hundred repeats of this, you are tearing your hair out in agony. After thousands of repeats, you give in to writing science fiction fantasy novels; or your career as a writer is ruined. Still, or maybe even more so for that, you fear sharing your dark secret with anyone.
This is a metaphor that came upon me to describe the state of an empath who does not realise they are an empath. It’s what happened to me — I spent a lot of energy psychoanalysing myself, trying to understand why on earth I would suddenly find in my being incomprehensible emotions, seemingly unconnected to my life’s plot at all. Some of them were fairly gruesome, or odd. I even went to see therapists.
Perhaps not everyone who feels this way is an empath — other things could cause similar sensations. I have no in-depth knowledge of that.
However, for me things started clearing up when I realised I’d had left the gate open; and I had also mail-ordered a range of newsletters on ethology, and yes, those sleazy romance novels. So all who wished to do so could pass, and the postman was probably here, too; or maybe a bunch of kids from the bush. I did not understand how someone could confuse my typewriter with my mailbox; maybe the postman wanted to be funny or was myopic. Maybe, since I had painted my typewriter yellow for inspiration, the neighbour’s kids had glued a “deposit mail here” sign on its backside as a joke. No idea, really. But hey, I wasn’t crazy — I had perhaps left the door open, or through some mis-click ordered junk, but at least I hadn’t written these abominations.
Anyways, I started binning those pages, sometimes after skimming them casually and managing my newsletter subscriptions (while still being, admittedly, in negotiation with the crazy invisible postman, and wondering why my typewriter was born a mailbox).
Still from then on, it was just so much easier to stick to the plot. 🙂