Friday Speak Out!: Why Writers Should Have Multiple Personalities

Friday, March 13, 2015
by Bonnie ZoBell

When I'm drafting, I'm the most Bonniesh. I let her rip without other voices interfering. Annabel, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who's not un-smart but who has no boundaries, often edges in from my subconscious to loosen me up. If for some reason there's a refrigerator in the bedroom, instead of banning it, I leave it, try to figure out why it's there. If my character wants to drive her Studebaker to the airport and fly to Jot-Em-Down, Texas, after a bad day, so be it.

After that free-spirited start, stealthily, I begin to get more critical. Pilar kicks in, reminding me "stealthily" ain't the best word. No, my character can't wear a leopard bustier to a funeral. But why can't she? Just because I wouldn't? Not a good reason. Sure, let her paint the living room fuchsia, but make her stop saying "rad" so much. And if she can't see the father is doing everything he can, do we really want to read a whole story from her perspective?

My draft is decent enough now that if I were eaten by Big Foot tomorrow and someone probed my belongings, the story would simply look like a rough draft, not meaningless ramblings. Unlike me, largely a recluse, I make my characters confront heinous boyfriends, tell their bosses off, suddenly go to Spain. I describe unusual colors of brown hair, explore what these people are so afraid of, what they think will happen if they don't take action. What's at their core.

When split infinitives start to cross my mind, Theodore, buried in my cerebral cortex, chimes in. He claims never to have seen the piece before—good because I've read it so many times I'm numb. He's been at the New Yorker since the 13th century. He's appalled at many passages. He wants to know why if the story is set during the Vietnam War, the character would say "Googled." Why is the mother contemplating her relationship with her daughter AGAIN on p. 3 when she just did on p. 2? Do I mean further or do I really mean farther? Why is there a space break on p. 12 when it's still the same scene? I've got to shut Theodore up before he goes too far, though, or I'd only be writing technical journals. Shoo, Theodore!

I read the story fourteen more times, lock it in a drawer, then read it again. I find unnecessary phrases, realize that if I move a scene from p. 8 to p. 3, everything opens up faster. How could I have spelled "spontaneous" that way? Okay, I'll cave and put the thing through Spell Check, though I prefer to work alone.

Sparrow, an uber-savvy chick on FaceBook, sneaks in from some cavernous corner of my psyche. However, I hardly know this "friend." She's way too cool for me, so I make her retreat.

My editor self has to decide whether to call the person I'm addressing in my cover letter "Mr.," "Ms.," "Dear Surly Button Review," "Sir," "Madam," or "To Whom," but I'm guessing (hoping) this part doesn't really matter.

I take the word "impish" out, put it back in. I try to decide whether I'd be sympathetic toward this character if I met him on the street. Is there any reason to turn the page? Is there at least a sliver of humor no matter how serious the theme? Is there enough personality going on in that character so he's as Bonniesh as he can be?

Then the story might be ready.

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Photo by Elsa
Bonnie ZoBell's new linked collection from Press 53, What Happened Here: a novella and stories , is centered on the site PSA Flight 182 crashed into North Park, San Diego, in 1978 and features the imaginary characters who live there now. Her fiction chapbook The Whack-Job Girls was published in March 2013. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. She has an MFA from Columbia University, currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College and is working on a novel. Visit her at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Sioux Roslawski said...

Bonnie--What a wonderful way of thinking about the writing process.

Margo Dill said...

You are so right--writing takes all kinds of personalities. But we better not tell "regular" people that. They already think we're crazy! :)

Kathy Steinemann said...

Rad post, Bonnie. Who knew that multiple personality disorder could be so beneficial? ;-)

Lily Iona MacKenzie said...

This offers a great perspective! Thanks for sharing.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I love this!

bzobell said...

Thanks, Sioux! We've got to have fun when we can!

bzobell said...

Agreed, Margo. Best not to let civilians get ahold of this. We already have a bad enough rap.

bzobell said...

As long as we have some control over it, Kathy, I think we're okay!

bzobell said...

I appreciate that, Lily!

bzobell said...

Thanks so much, Angela!

Judy Reeves said...

Bonnie, this is a lively, fun piece, a delight to read. No wonder you're so interesting--giving all those characters free rein. Thanks.

Unknown said...

That was awesome!!

bzobell said...

Thanks, Judy! It's hard to keep track of them, so I may seem a little scattered.

bzobell said...

Appreciate that, Pam. You must have to have a lot of personalities for painting, too.

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