Brilliance, defined by dictionary.com is excellence or distinction; conspicuous talent, or mental ability. In contrast, insanity is defined as a derangement of the mind. However, as a writer, the two are inextricable. Of course writers prefer to be viewed as brilliant creators, but in reality, insanity seems to lie just below the surface.
The topic of brilliance versus insanity has come up a few times over the past couple of weeks as I discuss the soon to be released, Stealing Mr. Smith with my beta readers. To give you an idea of where things lie among these two contrasting yet entangled words, I want to share with you the logic that has me experiencing both moments of brilliance and glimmers (okay, reams) of insanity.
- The desire to write in the first place has a little insanity tucked into its notion. A writer writes well in moments, but it is also not an unusual occurrence to see me searching my brain for a solution, wandering around the house, or stewing over a story line that is beyond my grasp.
- Something that continues to amaze me is how I can visualize a story. I hear the characters’ voices and sense their mood through the body language they display. I watch the story unfold as if I am watching a movie. This, though quite likely a little quirky, is a brilliant flow of creation. The insanity settles in when I sit down to write and the words just don’t come as easily as the movie that inspired the writing.
- My characters talk through me. At the risk of sounding like I’ve completely lost my marbles, I tell you this and trust that you will not only understand but be enthralled by such situations. Yesterday I connected with Kelsey Gietl (author of Across Oceans). As we chatted about books, processes, and more, it became clear that we both experience the embodiment of the characters we write about.
Here is the story I relayed to Kelsey about how Becoming Mrs. Smith and Stealing Mr. Smith came to be. I was all set to write one book, A Man Called Smith. I was well on my way to mapping out the story. My bulletin board was full of notes, dates, character interviews and more.
As the weeks went by, research and writing consumed each day. It was the nights though that became the most intriguing. Sleeping peacefully, I was woken by a conversation. The first time I awoke, I sat up in bed a little puzzled and annoyed by the commotion before I got up and checked to ensure the window was closed. It was.
I lay back and began to drift off once again. Somewhere between consciousness and dreamland, the conversation that woke me the first time, resumed again. After several attempts at sleep, instead of grumbling about the interruption, I decided to listen.
It was then that I realized the conversation was happening in my head. Two voices, both of them female, were talking to me and over each other, vying for my attention. The first voice I remember hearing was that of Violet’s (Becoming Mrs. Smith). It was sweet and polite and only slightly hesitant. “If it wouldn’t be too much bother,” she said. “I would enjoy a story all my own.”
I was in awe. Probably in shock and definitely sleep deprived. The moment of recognition lasted only a minute as Violet was immediately pushed aside by the much louder, more assertive voice of Bernice (Stealing Mr. Smith). “If she gets her own story, then I get mine too.” It was almost as if I could see Bernice actually, physically pushing Violet aside to speak her own demands.
I am not certain of how long this first night of discussion went on, but I do know that it was repeated every night around 3:00 AM for weeks on end, until I finally gave in and told them both they would each have their own story. I held Bernice at bay by telling her that due to the order of story timelines, Violet’s story would be first and she would just simply need to pipe down and be patient if she was to have a story all to herself. This approach did indeed quieten Bernice until Becoming Mrs. Smith was released in October of 2017.
- When it strikes, brilliance can take you far on little fuel. When that idea sticks and holds your feet to the fire, demanding that you get it all down before it vanishes, that is brilliance at work. The need to create is brilliance pushing the boundaries of what our limiting thoughts would rather hold us back from. Brilliance takes courage (enter in a little insanity) and fortitude. If you seek brilliance in your creative endeavors, then do yourself a favor and show up each and every day. It isn’t scheduled on the calendar when it will strike, but I guarantee you if you stick with it, brilliance will most definitely present itself to you.
- The movie that plays in my head of the stories I create is brilliance to me. They are the motivating factors that lure me in to the process. They make me want to give readers exactly what I see in my imagination and those movies always make me want to become a better writer.
- Brilliance allows me to wear each character as I write. Like an actor putting on a costume, I put on my characters one at a time. I pay attention as they see and feel their way about the world. They tell me secrets about themselves without even meaning to. Though not all of them are people I regard as pleasant, they are at the very least interesting.
Hopefully I have redeemed myself and you can see why there is such a thin line between brilliance and insanity. Both are necessary for the creative process. One feeds off the other and in the end, the story is all that matters.