How I Ready Myself

Waiting in the zone.

Waiting in the overlap zone.

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I mentioned in Post 3b, How I Suspect My Writing Takes Care of Itself, that I try to spend as much of my day as possible in that zone where my conscious mind and my unconscious mind overlap. That zone is where my most precious ideas come to me.

And those ideas often appear suddenly, when I’m on the treadmill, for example, or lifting weights, or out driving, or just sitting quietly and looking out at our trees moving in concert with the high winds that sometimes come to us from the mountains.

But I have to be ready for those ideas. That’s my job. I like to think of it this way:

A little kid comes running up out of my unconscious with a note for me. But he doesn’t see me, and he’s come as far as he dares.

Finally, he turns and goes back.

I was reading, perhaps, or visiting with someone, or listening to music, or working on my budget for the month. I was mostly in my conscious mind.

If I had been in the overlap zone, though, he could have given me that note.

But I failed him. And I failed myself.

Before I go any further, however, let me say really clearly that I’m describing what helps keep me ready to write. I am not suggesting what I do would work for anyone else. I only know that it works for me.

OK. Here’s how I try to stay in that magical zone. I base everything I do on two quotations, which I keep before me at all times. Nietzsche says it is absolutely essential, if you wish to lead a worthwhile life, that you fully commit to one thing and to one thing only. Not two. Just one.

And Tolstoy says exactly the same thing. In Anna Karenina, he has Constantine say that a worthwhile life consists in choosing only one of the innumerable possibilities that life offers and then committing, wholeheartedly, to that one choice.

Yes to the one. No to the many. Always. And for me that means no newspapers, no magazines, no radio, no television, no music, no vacations, and no leaving the house, if possible, other than Tuesdays when I head out somewhere to photograph – with the sound system in the car turned off.

Involvement with any of these distractions immediately rips me out of that overlap zone where I want to be and where I need to be. Because if I’m not there, waiting, I end up missing that little kid with all his notes.

So throughout the day I always have my fountain pen and my trusty red Moleskine right beside me, just in case. And when I’m out driving I have Voice Notes on my iPod cued up and ready to go, just in case.

I even have a waterproof notebook stuck to the wall of the shower, just in case.

“The readiness is all.”

I truly do believe my unconscious mind is most of who I am. And by far the most important part. And if I ever begin to disconnect from my unconscious mind, I believe I would begin that horrific slide into what Viktor Frankl calls the existential vacuum.

All of this readiness, this commitment to one thing and to one thing only, is especially crucial, of course, in the two hours between my getting out of bed in the morning and my sitting down to write. And also during my three to four hours of writing.

I’m very protective of that time. I would never consider opening my emails, or answering the phone, or responding to a knock at the door.

But my evenings are quite different. My wife and I have a wonderful Blue Ray DVD player, a humongous Samsung screen, wireless Sennheiser headphones, and a few shelves of classic movies. And in the evenings, when we’re not playing cribbage, we sometimes fire up one of those movies.

But even then, I still have my red Moleskine on the floor right beside me.

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