Late Night Freud and the First Glimmers of a New Idea

It’s too late at night to ponder too deeply… my head is heavy and my thoughts are muddled. A thought just occurred to me though and I can’t believe I didn’t figure this out before now.

My writing has changed over the past couple of years. I attributed my change in focus to many things – mainly the fact that I acquired an amazing writing partner. Almost everything I write now is a shared labour of love and we get so caught up in ‘our’ stuff, that the latest novel keeps getting pushed to the side. Inspiration pours out of me in the form of poems and lyrics now and it’s a very different mindset and process than when I write a novel.

When I write the novels, I sit by myself and step into a world that’s of my creation – but not mine. It’s pure fantasy.

When I write songs and poems, I write with and for my partner, about a world that’s ours. It’s our reality.

I know there is more to this thought than I’m capturing here in my sleep deprived ramblings, but it’s the tip of a deeper musing. It reminded me of an essay I wrote when I was studying psychology. The paper is outdated and too personal (as per the assignment given) but I’ll post it here in case anyone wants to wander through the scary landscape where Freud and I greet each other. I am very far away from the person I was when I wrote this paper, but I think the ideas are still sound. Following its train of thought, I should rework it and consider how I write now. (My writing style has also changed and I’d love to rewrite for that fact alone!)

Anyway, I need sleep! Goodnight and sweet dreams!

******************

Wish-Fulfillment and Creative Writing

Sigmund Freud explained the structure of personality as having an id, an ego and a superego (Larsen & Buss, 2005). In his psychoanalytic personality theory, he describes the id as being the home of a person’s wants and desires (Larsen & Buss). Through the primary process, the id creates a fantasy with which it attempts to satisfy its base desires (Larsen & Buss). The ego’s job, through secondary processing, is utilizing that manifestation into something realistic (Larsen & Buss). The art of writing romance novels and fan fiction is a tangible example of this interplay.

A defining characteristic of the human condition is the desire for pleasure. It is the impetus for much of what defines civilized society. The movie, television and fashion industries have their foundation in the pleasure principle. Fast food outlets thrive by selling food that is low in nutrition but high in taste. Cultural standbys such as parties, dances and carnivals are all by-products of the human need for gratification. According to Freud’s psychoanalytic personality theory, the id “operates according to the pleasure principle, which is the desire for immediate gratification” (Larsen & Buss, 2005, p. 282). The id is a generating station for urges. Void of any conscious or temperance, it only wants. “The id also operates with primary process thinking, which is thinking without logical rules of conscious thought or an anchor in reality. Dreams and fantasies are examples of primary process thinking” (Larsen & Buss, 2005, p. 282). Fantasies or daydreams are the physical manifestation of our desires.

Satisfaction through fantasizing can be akin to satisfaction through attaining the real thing. “Research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), shows that imagining an object, like the tree, activates the same area of the brain that is activated when the object is actually seen (Kosslyn & Thompson, 2000). This result tells us that there are important similarities between what happens in the brain when we imagine seeing something and when we actually see it.” (Goldstein, 2005, p. 50). By daydreaming about what we want, we can achieve it to some level because “the id makes no distinction between subjective imagery and objective reality. When it chathects an image of an object, that is, when energy is invested in a process which forms a mental representation of an object, it is the same as cathecting the object itself. For the id, object as image and object as external reality are identities and not separate entities” (Hall, 1954, p. 41).

Daydreams, as physical manifestations of our base desires, are built on worlds we wish we could walk in and peopled with characters we wish we knew. They can also be the place where we are our best selves. They are an idealized alternate universe where we achieve and possess all the things we desire. “If an urge from the id requires an external object or person, and that object or person is not available, the id may create a mental image or fantasy of that object or person to satisfy its needs. Mental energy is invested in that fantasy, and the urge is temporarily satisfied. This process is called wish fulfillment, whereby something unavailable is conjured up and the image of it is temporarily satisfying” (Larsen & Buss, 2005, p. 282).

Once the primary process translates the craving into an image, the ego’s secondary process takes over. The primary process “gets him only to the point where he has a picture of the object that will satisfy the need. The next step is to find or produce the object, that is, to bring it into existence. This step is accomplished by means of the secondary process. The secondary process consists of discovering or producing reality by means of a plan of action that has been developed through thought and reason” (Hall, 1954, p. 29). A daydream achieves reality when it is written down on paper. The thoughts that are in a person’s head are realized when they are formed into something tangible. By writing romance novels or fan fiction, a person can propel their fantasy into something physical.

Fan fiction or romance novels are a displacement for the real desire. If the dreamer is yearning for a romance but cannot achieve one, the fictionalized version becomes a substitute. “This shunting of energy is called displacement. Thus, if food is not handy, a hungry baby may place a wooden block or its own hand in its mouth” (Hall, 1954, p. 39).

As adults, we are discouraged from daydreaming. It is interpreted as childish. It can also be seen as losing touch with reality. Mainstream culture dismisses daydreaming as child’s play. However, what happens to someone who actively daydreams? How does the ego take that primary process and convert it into something real? How does it convert it into something acceptable?

The ego’s secondary process steps in and sublimates a daydream created out of pure self-gratification, and parleys it into art (Hall, 1954). The mental images, transformed into artistic expression, are suddenly deemed acceptable. They are sublimated into inspiration, as opposed to whimsy. “When the substitute object is one that represents a higher cultural goal, this type of displacement is called a sublimation. Examples of sublimation are the deflection of energy into intellectual, humanitarian, cultural, and artistic pursuits” (Hall, 1954, p. 82) I can justify my daydreams by using them as fodder for my creative writing. I can even make money by capitalizing on the process, thereby supplementing my income.

Looking back over my writing career, I can now see how my desires have formed my art. The first fiction I recall writing was a novel in high school. It was fan fiction, before I knew the term. I did not date in high school and, like most teenagers, felt ugly, conspicuous and alone. I had a lot of male friends but no dates. My daydreams however, fulfilled that desire. In them, I was beautiful, tall, thin and adored. I was exactly who I wanted to be. In my fantasies, I was not only adored, I was loved by the man who I thought ruled the world at the time, a rock star. I did not just dream of a boyfriend. I dreamed of THE boyfriend. Even at that age I remember feeling silly by having the daydreams. I would confess them to my girlfriends, who confessed theirs to me as well, but they were seen as secrets and childish. When I started writing a novel, however, I could suddenly talk about my fantasies without impunity. I was now discussing something intelligent. I was writing a novel. I went from being a star-struck schoolgirl to being a potential novelist.

I do not remember writing much in University nor when I was married. Looking back, I now consider the possibility that I did not write because I did not need to have wishes fulfilled. I had an active dating life in University and eventually was married. While married, my writing took a turn towards the legitimate. I wrote freelance human-interest articles for a local newspaper chain. The next time I can recall writing romantic wish-fulfilling fantasy was after my divorce. My writing was not strictly romantic however. It had a science fiction perspective. This was odd for me and I wondered what was drawing me to the science fiction realm. It finally occurred to me that I was dreaming of a super strong hero that could protect me. After years of living with a man diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I was scared for the safety of my infant son and myself. My daydreams, and fiction, were about a hero who was dependable and protective. By reaching out to the science fiction realm, the hero could be more than an ordinary man. He could be a superhero.

Now, seven years after my marriage ended, my writing has turned more legitimate. I still like fan fiction but my focus is on writing a novel. As I regain my emotional strength and independence, my stories have turned towards characters that are more realistic. As a single mother who is finishing her B.A., I do not make time to date. I therefore still write small fan fictions about heroes but my main project, a novel, is about average, down-to-earth people who fall in love. The main character is a woman my age, who lives in a house like mine, who works at a museum like the one where I volunteer. She falls in love with an idealistic young man who works with children and has travelled the third world with an aid organization. The novel also includes a storyline about a man who reappears twenty years after being seemingly killed in a fiery car crash. My brother was killed in a fiery car crash fifteen years ago. I however, did not even realize that I was writing the parallel storyline that is so obviously a wish fulfillment, until it was brought to my attention by someone with a more objective vantage point.

Looking at where my writing takes me, I now have a better understanding of where my desires lay. I can see how my desires and wishes over the years have shaped by daydreams and ultimately my writing. I look at my story ideas and it is like reading a diary of where my desires and fears lay. I still want a hero but a real one. I want someone who will fight for the downtrodden and who will have the same goals as I. The female leads in my stories are now strong, educated women rather than girls. There is still one alien fighting, Colonel ranked, ace pilot, however, that I keep around for those days that get particularly difficult. Moreover, like the irony of all good fiction, the more I know about how our desires function and how secondary processes keep them reputable, the more age keeps me from caring what society thinks.

References

Goldstein, E. Bruce. (2005). Cognitive psychology. Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience. Toronto: Thomson Wadsworth.

Hall, Calvin S. (1954). A primer of Freudian psychology. Freud’s great discoveries on human behavior. New York: The World Publishing Company.

Larsen, R. J., & Buss, D. M. (2002). Personality psychology: Domains of knowledge about human nature. (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill

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3 thoughts on “Late Night Freud and the First Glimmers of a New Idea

  1. I am in awe of anyone who can write lyrics to music. Every word has to be the right word or it just doesn’t work. Novels are a little more forgiving. One wrong sentence won’t kill the whole book.

    • Hi Diana! I never thought I could write lyrics either. In fact, I thought it was the last thing I could do. One of the good things about writing songs however, is that I don’t feel so badly when I want to toss it in the garbage. I have a novel that’s giving me headaches right now but I have so much invested that I am loathe to give it up despite the fact that it’s not the novel I wanted to write.

      It’s so great to meet you!

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