I get my best ideas when I’m not thinking. There’s a great paradox to hang a theory on, hey?
I’m entirely serious. I’ll sit for an hour, staring at a white, blank screen, trying to solve some not-overwhelmingly-thorny problem with a story that I’m writing. How do I get the hero and the heroine into the elevator together? Who really stole that diamond? Somehow, committing all my mental resources and time and attention to one problem seems to be the worst, least productive way to arrive at a good solution. I sit. And I stare. I type ten plausible answers, and end up hating and discarding them all.
Then I get dragged away by regular life, the normal stuff we all gotta do. Some time later, the door of a medicine cabinet will slam, or I’ll drop a fork into the garbage by mistake, or I’ll turn the radio on really loud, accidentally, and something will jar itself loose from my subconscious and I’ll find I’m holding the answer — the one, real, good, genuine answer I knew I was looking for all along. Ahh.
So the theory is that, somehow, you can surprise yourself into writing well.
This hedges towards many much deeper questions, deeper than I mean to address in this little blog post: how memory works, how creativity happens, whether the subconscious is where all the good ideas actually come from, and if so, why should we ever be conscious at all…
I don’t want, right now, to understand the process fully. I want to harness it.
And we’re rounding on November, and NaNoWriMo, which I’m not participating in this year (or, like, ever.) So this is my initiative instead, this and every November going forward — to attempt some new writing method or process. This year, I’ll be trying ‘Story4’, which is a entirely fabulous, unprecedented, powerfully creative writing technique (that I just made up.)
Story4 is a technique where you start with four blank sheets of paper (or files) and write four separate stories in parallel, in a state of constant transition between them. As long as you’re writing, with fingers actually pushing down keys and making words, you keep going. Any time you are stalled for more than, I don’t know, fifteen (ten?) seconds, you flip to the next story and start writing. You don’t reread any more than is absolutely necessary to continue with the story that’s on the page in front of you. You don’t do any research at all. You can take a brief break every ten minutes. The four stories are, intentionally, as different as your writing talents can make them.
The goal is to continually jar yourself into a higher level of awareness, to cross the boundaries between subconscious and conscious creation fluidly, to get into ‘the zone’ and once there, not allow distractions to pull you out of it.
Is this idea any good? I have no clue. But I aim to find out. It think it’s at least as good as William Burrough’s cut-up methods, as good as using a Ouija board to prompt you, as good as a game of Exquisite Corpse. In fact, it’s close to doing an Exquisite Corpse with yourself.
Ah, but will it work, you ask? Well, check back to this blog, and I’ll try to let you know.
Even if it doesn’t work, I might learn something by comparing the four stories that came out of such completely similar writing circumstances — like scientists studying identical twins over the stretch of their lifetimes.
P.S. If you too want to try Story4November (or Story3November, or Story5November, or Story4SomeOtherMonth) please be my guest. I’d love to hear about your experience, in the comments below or otherwhere. Happy November.