How I Suspect My Writing Takes Care of Itself

It’s good to be back indoors. It was -31° C this morning when I took this photo.

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In my first post, Getting Started, I talked about the prohibitive cost, for me, of hiring an editor. But I have an even greater concern about editors than the cost.

My concern ties in with Chandler’s notion that writers only need to ready themselves, then wait, and the magic of writing will begin to happen on its own.

I think he may be saying what many, if not most, writers have been saying for centuries. Ideas come to them from somewhere. Creative writing, they say, is not primarily a conscious, lockstep process.

The ancient Greek and Roman writers, for example, believed their creativity came from divine spirits, which they called Daemons, or Geniuses, or Muses. Those guardian spirits guided them as they wrote. Sometimes they understood the spirits as an inner voice, sometimes as an outer voice, and sometime as both.

Today we realize the ancients were speaking metaphorically. They had no choice. They were trying to explain the inexplicable.

And writers ever since have been speaking metaphorically, as well. They still have no choice. They still don’t understand exactly where their ideas come from. But the ideas do come, nonetheless.

It is not surprising today when writers say their characters often create themselves, in part at least, and then often take on a life of their own. And when their characters do that, they can take their novel in directions the writers had not anticipated.

When that happens, they say their job is to stay out of the way, and to quietly and unobtrusively observe the interactions of their characters while writing everything down, almost as if they were taking dictation. Back to the Greeks and Romans, right?

And back to Chandler: That magic will happen, if you’re ready.

But how does that happen? Where do the ideas come from?

There are probably as many answers to those questions as there are writers. But I believe my ideas come from my unconscious. I also believe my unconscious is most of who I am. My conscious mind is only the proverbial tip, a very small tip, and it has no idea what the rest of me, down below the surface, is doing.

Nietzsche, my main hero, says that by far the greatest part of our spirit’s activity remains unconscious and unfelt. And the thinking that does rise to the conscious level is only the smallest part of that activity.

I agree. I don’t even think today’s social neuroscientists with their fMRIs could find me down there, although they might spot the odd footprint in the sand and maybe even a discarded apple core.

Many of the scientists I’ve been reading lately, who study how our minds work, no longer accept the Freudian or Jungian assertions that the unconscious contains the things we’ve forgotten, as well as all the bad things that have happened to us and all the things we’re afraid of that we’ve buried there.

Nor do they believe, as Freud and Jung did, that we can access that unconscious realm through some form of willing, or meditation, or therapy.

But they still do believe everything that happens at the conscious level has its roots in the unconscious.

I like all that. I also like the notion that there is no hard line separating the conscious from the unconscious. Instead, there’s a zone, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, where the two overlap. And I believe my most precious ideas come to me only when I am in that zone.

In my next post, What Could Happen If I Let Someone Else Edit My Novel, I’m going to explain why I’m concerned about what might happen to those gifts from my unconscious if I hire a professional editor. And in Post 5b, How I Ready Myself, I’m going to share with you how I try to keep myself in that overlap zone for as much of my day as possible.

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