(No Need To) Know Thyself

Some teachers make screenwriters feel like they need psycho-analysis before they can write anything worthwhile.

I used to agree. Now I’m confused. In any case, claiming that no quality writing can happen without deep introspection seems wrong.

It was Joss Whedon who got me thinking about this. During his talk at the Sydney Opera House earlier this year, he explained how for most of his stellar career, he had no idea why he was writing. He had never reflected on the question where all his creative energy came from and why the characters he creates are who and what they are.

Here is one of the most successful and respected screenwriters of our generation, who has deeply touched millions of movie and TV viewers all over the world. He created screen characters that have not only been tremendously successful: they have shaped the culture and the lives of many of their viewers.

Never had Joss questioned where his inspiration came from nor why he would continue to create characters with similar traits. Yet his inspiration kept flowing.

Clearly there was no need for him to be aware of his own psychological need to tell stories in order to be successful. His characters speak directly to countless fans all over the world.

So, if anyone makes you feel as if you should first go through a thorough self-analysis before you can be worthy of creating quality and you feel uncomfortable about this, think about Whedon. Feel free to ignore any pressure to go self-analyzing and just focus on your writing.

Go into the minds of your characters and explore those. Most writers really don’t need to go into their own to deliver the goods.

Writing is one thing. Self-analysis is another. As a matter of fact, self-analysis seems to me awfully close to something called therapy. Perhaps those claiming you need this in order to write, are in need of it themselves.

So what do you think? Do you need therapy to unlock your muse?

2 thoughts on “(No Need To) Know Thyself”

  1. No. And I don’t need to analyse whether one way is better than the other either. We’re all different, what I do as a writer will be different than Joss Whedon or anybody else for that matter. I like to go with the old adage, ‘take what you like and leave the rest’. I don’t think anyone has the ‘answer’ when it comes to writing but we can learn from each other’s experience and knowledge. The important thing is to write and not judge how we do it or from what place we do it, whether you go deep into character work or not… just write because it brings you joy and sparks your passion.

    Examining the creative process and self analysis aren’t bad things. Teaching that perspective isn’t wrong, it’s just another way to go, it may or may not resonate with you. I like what you said when you encouraged people to focus on their writing and if it wasn’t comfortable for them to delve into the deeper self issues then don’t. That makes sense.

    Moral: There’s more than one way to unlock a muse. Do what feels right for you.

  2. @Aarhon +5 insightful

    true. the worst thing a writer can do is keep trying to use a “method” that doesn’t work for them. if you’re not happy with your writing try something different. keep trying different things until you are truly happy. don’t read or listen to opinions trying to find the solution. you must explore and seek until you have found your own path.


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