Ruminations on Writer’s Block and the Muse:
I’ve been reading a book called THE MIDNIGHT DISEASE-THE DRIVE TO WRITE, WRITER’S BLOCK AND THE CREATIVE BRAIN, by Alice W. Flaherty. IT’s gotten me thinking about the mechanism of inspiration versus perspiration, and the competing forces of motivation and blockage. I’m noticing today that often, when I can’t sleep and my mind is full of a million little details of life, writing actually helps me move through that - real writing, creative writing. What’s happening in the brain then? what process takes the million mundanities and processes them into something unrelated, waving narrative and character out of them? In a way, that’s what our dreams do. Perhaps when I write through insomnia I am actually creating the waking version of dreams? The mind weaving story out of all its preoccupations, story that seems completely unrelated.
Thus endeth the musing and rumination. Your thoughts are welcome.
Joe Medina Says:
November 29th, 2006 at 8:39 pm
Kewl, this is a lot more thought-provoking than I expected. I must’ve taken these questions for granted longer than I thought. I’ve got to read Alice Flaherty’s now. I’m intrigued.
I’m tempted to go into the science of it. Or rather, the theories. Hypnagogic mental states. Quantum brain dynamics. But I’d only be distracting myself from a simple fact: It’s an integral part of who I am. And I don’t know what it is.
For me, that’s part of the fun. Maybe we’re quantum computers that invent their own software. In a ghost realm where a particle can be here and not here at the same time, turning everyday nonsense into a heartwarming, carefully plotted character study would be a cinch. Are you working on another chapter or breaking symmetry? Is that a paradox in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? Dream it all and let Heisenberg sort it out.
I do thinking we dream while awake, and that we do a kind of lucid dreaming when we write. There is craft to the art, the editing and conscious effort. But the process is still mysterious. Suddenly a character takes on a life of its own, or there’s a twist in the plot that surprises even the writer at the keyboard. We tap into an energy that doesn’t seem entirely ours, but not completely alien either. Whether it’s the same cosmic power that made shamans out of ordinary men, or a Zen-like collapsing wave function courtesy of superstrings in our heads….
Come to think, what’s the difference?
December 2nd, 2006 at 6:36 pm
Leon Wieseltier, cited in THE MIDNIGHT DISEASE: “Whenever I read Kafka, I wonder:what sort of dejection is this, that leaves one the strength to write and write and write? If you can write about the wreckage, the wreckage is not complete. You are intact. Here is a rule: The despairing writer is never the most despairing person in the world.” To which Alice Flaherty adds: “Of course, that is one reason why we write, to prove to ourselves that the wreckage is not yet complete.”
Why do we write? And how does depression affect our writing? Is art of any form a means of salvation when faced with mental illness? Cause, effect or neither? Flaherty refers to research that posits a sort of bell curve in reference to mania (a state of arousal) - just enough for action, not so much to become disorganized. Perhaps the same could be said of all mental states - just enough to motivate and give depth, not so much that the wreckage becomes complete.
All of which brings me back to the fundamental question of author’s purpose. On the one hand, we write for ourselves, because it is how we express ourselves, because we have a story that demands to be told, a character who insists on speaking, a message that must be shared. But we also write for an audience. Is a work of writing complete without an audience? I used to feel that was a fundamental difference between writing for theater and other forms of writing - the role of others. Writing seems so solitary, but theatrical writing truly does not exist in completion until other artists are involved - actors, producers, an audience. Yet perhaps that is true of all writing. All except private diaries. It does not fully exist until it reaches an audience. “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” If a piece of writing never reaches an audience, is it complete?
Why do you write?
December 3rd, 2006 at 8:24 pm
Joe wisely reminds me such introspection can distract from the sheer joy of the creative act. But I can’t help it!! I yam who I yam.
And I “yam” thinking a lot about plot these days. This dance between dreamlike inspiration and conscious, sweaty craftsmanship circles around plot for me just now. The dreamlike state cannot sustain long enough for coherent plotting of a longer piece of writing. The conscious, craftsman mind has to step in, look over the meanderings and find the logical - or purposeful or meaningful - pathways through them. Plot. How to get from point a to point B. It sounds like it should be so easy.
What do you do to guide your plot?
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