Helen Michael (2012) "A Parallel Life": Exploring the Unconcious Fantasies of Fiction Writers


This study examines unconscious fantasies related to writers as inferred through analysis of in-depth interviews with a sample of productive fiction writers.  The intention was to increase the understanding of the psycho-dynamics associated with productivity and inhibition among writers.  Previous psychoanalytic study of this topic has been primarily theoretical in nature or based on clinical case studies and has emphasized reparative (Segal, 1952; 1991a) and defensive aspects of creativity, including sublimation (Freud, 1916-17; 1923).  An exception is an interview study by Kolodny (2000) which found that successful poets showed less tenacious resistances than blocked poets to the symbolic material of their work, were less anxious about regression during writing, and were able to persist despite emotional challenges.

 Eleven published fiction writers were recruited primarily through a snowball sample and consisted of men and women in their thirties through sixties.  Data was collected through an in-depth, open-ended tape recorded interview with each subject of one to one and a half hours in length.  Participants were very forthcoming, resulting in rich data that leant itself to in-depth examination of symbolic meanings.

Data was analyzed along five dimensions based on the literature and an initial examination of several interviews.  Findings include: first, transference to the work, which concerns the writer’s investing the work with fantasied omnipotent and other powers, such as healing and self-sustenance, and transference to the work as a created infant.  Second, in analyzing transference to others, most writers were found to select a “narcissistic twin,” who helps with completion of the work and separation from it.  Third, the psychic function of writing includes gratification through fantasies related to all developmental levels, including use of the writing as a transitional space/object.  Fourth, the process or methods which writers develop to help themselves write represents external solutions to internal challenges.  Fifth, writer’s block emerged as a result of self-attack and over-stimulation due to the work’s symbolic meanings.  Participants experienced both the desire to save and to destroy their manuscript and were usually able to act to preserve their work.  There appears to be fusion of the drives in the on-going fight to keep the manuscript, or symbolic baby, alive.  Informal comparison with an on-going blocked writer’s group indicates that the mastery of destructive impulses is crucial to productive writing.