How much do you have to write to know thyself?
February 6, 2016
SOCRATES REPORTED that the Delphic Oracle gave him two words of advice: Know Thyself.
Of course Socrates had it easy because he never tried to write anything. He left that pursuit to Plato and Aristotle.
Now 2,500 years or so later we are still attempting to mine the depth of those two words.
One of the greatest tools for self-discovery is the keyboard.
I came to this realization the last few days as I have piddled with a story that requires me to explore not only events of forty-five or fifty years ago, but even more perilous, to dig into the inner workings of people’s minds during that time period.
One of those minds I am attempting to excavate is my own.
Know thyself, the Delphic Oracle whispers.
I have appreciated for a long time the skill and insight authors must bring to a project when they write narrative nonfiction or historical fiction. The ability to recreate a world now past is a remarkable thing.
However, for me the more difficult task would seem to be placing oneself in one’s own shoes many years before.
I am a firm believer that as we move through the stages of our lives we develop or evolve so that the person we are in the present may be much different from the one we were forty years earlier. Those two people may be so different that little continuity exists.
So for the writer to conjure up the inner world of a character from fifty years before is very much akin to an archaeological dig, one where the best he can do is make educated guesses about how things were.
And along the way the author may make some discoveries about himself.
Already, only a few hundred words into the story I am working on, I have learned something about myself and my father. I learned it not because I discovered a new fact, but rather because I took the time to examine a part of the family ritual we always followed at the noon meal on Sundays.
That ritual had been there for me to consider all these years, but all of sudden when I wrote about it, I came to understand it for the first time.
Damn that Oracle.
Stephen Woodfin is the author of The Revelational Trilogy.