Creative writers can learn a lot from studying other subjects, from history to politics to science to business. Even dreaded mathematics, which so often seems antithetical to what we do, can enrich our stories.
They all present new worlds to explore and utilize… regardless of whether what you’re working on in the moment directly deals with the subject at hand. There might be details that jump off the page that can pertain to specific characters or specific points of the plot. Perhaps even random bits of dialogue that get you past a bout of writer’s block.
For the subject of history – Alexander the Great was taught by Aristotle.
For the subject of politics – The U.S. government intentionally acted to poison alcohol during Prohibition. Sometimes to lethal degrees.
For the subject of science – A single average strand of DNA is about 40,000 times thinner than human hair.
For the subject of business – Overnight success stories do happen every once in a while, but they’re rare and should be treated with extreme caution.
For the subject of mathematics – The Fibonacci sequence, which is a progression of numbers created by adding up the last two numbers of the list (i.e., 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, etc.) can be found in everything from spiral seashells to the Great Pyramid of Giza.
(Look up that last one especially. It’s fascinating!)
How can you use those in your creative writing? I don’t know. That’s ultimately up to you. But I’m absolutely certain they can be worked in somehow, someway, as can hundreds of thousands of other facts and figures out there just waiting for you to find.
And perhaps this is nowhere more true than with the subject of psychology.
Psychology, you see, is the study of behavior and the mind. What do we do and why do we do it?
We could go into intense detail about the different divisions of psychology, such as cognitive, forensic, social, and developmental focuses. And maybe that’s exactly what you should do as you write out your particular plot, characters, settings and dialogue.
But psychology is going to rule them all regardless. If you’re an unsophisticated creative writer, it’s going to rule you, with all your characters turning out to be exact replicas of yourself – your hopes, dreams, desires, fears, understandings, experiences, assumptions, prejudices…
And if you’re a more advanced creative writer, it’s going to rule you, with all your characters turning out to be moderated replicas of you – your hopes, dreams, desires, fears, understandings, experiences, assumptions, prejudices…
If you want to delve into philosophy – the study of knowledge, reality, and existence – you could probably make an argument that we are what we create. That what we practice serves to further shape us into individualized personalities with specific expertise and expressions.
Actually, come to think of it, you could probably make a psychological argument for that too.
But there’s absolutely no argument to be made when it comes to this next statement: We create what we are. As in, there’s no way we can produce anything that is separate from ourselves. Creative writers or otherwise, we work with limited resources.
That’s just a flat-out fact.
So it stands to reason that exploring what we are is a better way to understand what we create. And how to do it well.
So where do we begin to learn about psychology?
If you want to dive in really deep really fast, you can start by analyzing yourself in a really direct and purposeful fashion. Make lists of your typical emotions and habits throughout the week. Then ask yourself a whole lot of whys.
For instance, why do you stay in bed 30 minutes extra after your alarm goes off in the morning?
Because you’d rather be asleep for as long as possible? Okay. Why?
Because you always stay up too late the night before? Okay. Why?
Because you feel freest in the evening. After work. Where you waste far too much of your life away. Okay. Why?
See where this might be going?
Keep following it until you get to a bottom-line emotion or motivation, and its ultimate conclusion.
Or, if that sounds way too daunting, you can approach yourself in a more roundabout way by reading books and articles on the subject of psychology.
Psychology Today is one website that holds countless fascinating articles. It definitely has a political bias, for the record, and one I personally don’t always agree with. But even when creative writers (or anyone else) are on the opposite side of the ideological fence, we can still glean great tips on how we or our creative writing characters might display our own opinions.
For instance, on the morning of September 14, 2020, here are some of the headlines:
Why Narcissists Love Chaos
The Dark Side of Boredom
Can the Online Proliferation of QAnon Be Stopped?
What Do You Think Makes a Relationship Work?
How Vagus Nerve Robustness Is Linked to Depression Risk
Why Savoir-Faire Is a Key to Social Success
Three Reasons It Can Be Hard to Know What You Really Want.
Pick a title. Any title.
Or, if you think Psychology Today is beneath you (which, who knows, it might be), do some research on more academically acceptable sources. Just give yourself ample room to study the subject of psychology regardless.
It’s well worth the effort from a personal growth perspective alone. And you might quickly find that your creative writing reads a lot more realistically as a direct result.