So, the post I have been waiting for all week! I am super excited to share with you my first ever guest blogger and writing partner in crime Dreamland’s Insurgents. This is the first in many collaborations between us I do so hope! But more on that later. Here is my interview question that I asked him and his beautifully worded response.
Although I’ve been writing since I was a wee lad, composing fantasy novels on the bus in middle school, it wasn’t until college that I became aware of the process. started thinking about composition, themes, characters, you know, the elements. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing or where it came from, or the effects it had on the writer. It’s not even that I was writing for myself, though, I definitely was writing with the hopes that it would be read. But it was really immature, or rather unripe, like the first few harvests of grapes. You don’t make wine with grapes from young vines. You can’t just crush them up and put them in a bottle, either. You have to have experience, you have to have a process.
A couple of reading/ “philosophical” sources came together in my mind to make sense of the writing process. The first was John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. He was the author of the infamous Grendal, a novel told from the perspective of the villain from the old-English epic Beowulf. Gardner was not only a skilled writer, but a passionate believer in his craft. In The Art of Fiction he calls writing “vivid and continuous dream.” When I read that, it spoke to me. It called my attention to the fact that when I wrote, even more so than when I read, I was absorbed in the story. I don’t think there’s been any neuroscience done on writers during their process but I actually suspect if writers were hooked up to neuro-scanners (whatever you call em) during the writing process we’d see the same parts of the brain firing up that we see in people who are dreaming at night.
The second source that brought my attention to the craft in a good way was Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels. Many writers and readers are familiar with these incredibly well-written stories. The main character is Morpheus, king of dreams. His story, a classic hero-quest, weaves through tales of Shakespeare and other writers and artists. Dreams in The Sandman are an integral part of stories, and both work to keep humanity sane and in a state of constant wonder. The sanity and the wonder are the same. There’s no distinction between the dreams we have at night and the dreams that are our hopes and plans. They’re all stories.
If people don’t sleep, they go crazy, just like if they feel hopeless, feel no purpose, they sink into despair. It’s a matter of dreams, which is to say, it’s a matter of stories. When you write, when you daydream about the future or other people or places, you’re telling yourself a story, whether it’s conscious or unconscious. It’s the storytelling mechanism of your brain.
So that’s how I view writing – dreaming, simply and profound (like any good truth). The process is much the same. If you’re not conscious of your process, writing can be as disjointed and difficult to follow as any fever-dream. If you’re aware of what you’re doing without disturbing the dream’s manifestation, you’ve got a lucid dream, and if you can put that on paper, you’ve got writing.
My process is still developing from this point. Before college, I “just wrote,” and it was easy, every time I sat down I wrote. Fantasy novels, for the most part – one in middle school, one in high school. Nothing you could call “good” by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of borrowed material. What was original was still very much governed by the morals, values, assumptions, etc. of our culture in general. You know, with movies and mass media, even books (and ebooks I think might make this worse), they stand in for our dreams, they make us dream according to the agenda of our society. I won’t go into my antagonism towards those consumer-dreams, but I think that’s there.
It took me a long time to begin feeling confidence in my own dreams. Or even longer to feel interest in other people’s dreams, which might be of equal or even greater importance. As a writer you have to be able to believe other people’s dreams – you understand people better, you can feel greater empathy, you can write more diverse characters. But in order to trust in that, I had to make a break with so-called “reality,” the shared reality dominated by money, and feel the microcosm of dreams in myself and others.
So when I sit down to write, I have to have an image, or a personality, or a setting – I have to feel it, I have to have a desire for it. A desire of it. A desire in it. I have to have enough to suspend my belief for *this* reality and immerse myself in *that* reality. It’s like self-enchantment. I need to put myself in a trance. That other reality sort of channels into and through me onto the paper, where I can tell someone else’s story. It doesn’t matter if that someone else is a 30-year-old male writer (ostensibly myself) or someone wildly different: an orc living in a swamp, a 22-year-old clone in the year 2050, a plastic bag blowing down the street. I have the potential to be anyone or anything – my presumptions about reality show through anywhere, but anything is potentially up for grabs.
My biggest challenge in writing is not losing the dream. Staying immersed, not letting myself get off track. Worse, few non-writers seem to understand the value of this trance, as members of tribes long ago knew not to disturb the trance of their local shaman. For a really great instance of this trance being broken, look at the poet Coleridge, who wrote maybe the best poem in English, “Kubla Khan,” as the result of a dream. 54 lines long, it was intended to be 200-300 when he first woke up, but he was interrupted by “a person on business from Porlock.” To hell with anyone “on business”! Business is the anathema of dreams, and now business has the ability to interfere not only at our door, but from phones, texts, television, computers, “alerts” of a million kinds. 90% of my writing process is just fending off business and all its mindsets.
I used to revise as I went, but I think “revision” is its own kind of business. Now I try to leave it for the end. Often, to resume the trance (because who can write a novel in one sitting? no one who wants to eat), I will go back and read what I’ve written, and now more often than not the reading itself will start the trance back up. I will experience the reality of the story again, and resume writing. Sometimes I’ll pick at the language and make small changes as I go, but it usually serves to put myself back inside the narration. The trance we right isn’t necessarily the spell we need to cast for a reader to participate, just like the dream we experience at night can never be the dream we tell our friends in the morning. We need to translate, too, but translation is a sort of work, a sort of business, the business of putting the dream on the page in a state where another reader can be put under its spell.
Well everyone, what about you? What do you think of his ideas? How are yours the same? Or different?