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  • Margaret Buckhanon

Am I Hearing Voices?

An essay by Margaret Buckhanon

I’m a writer, and those voices nagging me are characters all talking at once like unruly children vying for attention. They interrupt, cross talk, shout, scream and growl to get their point across—and I, the harried writer, am overwhelmed by numerous characters wanting my attention, wanting to be the protagonist over the one I’ve chosen, so they plot, scheme and manipulate to gain top billing.

In my novella, The Secret of Flying, I had to shoo away Jerrie Lee (the sister of protagonist Endive McClary) many times during the process. Jerrie Lee, a self-absorbed method actress, tended to monopolize the conversation of characters. I finally had to tell her, “Back off. Endive is the main character.” And though she is a supporting figure, important to the story, she is not the central character.

Writers are acceptable schizophrenics. Ever notice how your characters pick the most inopportune time to engage you? There you are in full view in a public place with people witnessing your facial expression: You mumble, raise your voice at characters only visible to you and dogs. (They really do have a sixth sense; too bad they can’t write.) And when you are cooking; I can’t tell you how many burnt meals I’ve had because a character thought it more important for me to listen to them.

I began hearing voices before I knew I wanted to be a writer. I thought imaginary characters were a passage of childhood. I was no different from any child with an active imagination. In my turbulent teens, the characters continued to follow and sometimes harassed me while I was desperately trying to adapt to the social norms of conformity in high school. I wanted to avoid the label, strange, which would be my scarlet letter if I was deemed so among my classmates. It was not cool to be a writer so I went along with the charade, denying the voices telling me to write.

When I attended a university, I realized conformity was lobotomizing my soul. I recognized the desire to write without fear. The characters I had rejected gave up on me. Crushed, the writer’s block lasted five years. I had learned a harsh lesson and vowed never to repress it again.

I had not enough life experience to resurrect the voices who had abandoned me. So, I read voraciously, jotted the words in my head on anything I could write in hope the voices would realize the error of my ways and forgive me. I did not wait long as they greeted me as the prodigal child. I never stopped writing there-after, and I did it with a joy I had never known. Writing is oxygen, and writers need voices like water is life.

Never forsake the creative being in you; let the force of the written word take hold and you, the writer, watch the magic unfold. Let your characters make you miss a meal, or an appointment; what they have to say is important. Let your characters fight, shout, cross talk anywhere, anytime and you the writer stay silent—you don’t want to miss a thing. !


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