Lesson 6 for novel writing

Call it the unconscious or, better, your imagination!  That’s where creative novel writing lives and grows.

Novel writer's unconscious mindFrom the beginning, the stress in this programme has been on sitting down first thing in the morning, literally first thing, and accessing your unconscious as you write.  The important point was not to let your unconscious be deflected from the task by any sort of distraction.  The second writing period, later in the day, has become an unbreakable commitment to your writer self.  I shall write at this time!  Now is the time to start making planned access to your unconscious.

You are aware, even now as you read this, that the mind runs several streams of thought at the same time.  Our almost infinite capacity to daydream now needs to be harnessed.  In those daydreams, we often find ourselves as the hero, sometimes even as the victim.  Capitalising on the five previous lessons now is the time to construct a means of channelling selected streams to drive our writing turbines.

Looking over your own writing, and your notebook if you keep one (as you should!), identify a simple idea that you feel can be worked up into a completed piece of work in one uninterrupted sitting; a short story, or a self-contained ‘event’ within any larger planned work.  Work out in your own mind (writing notes) what this episode must contain; what is the essential point to be made and what characters are to be involved in making it.  Ask yourself what your central character, hero or heroine, looks like, both physically and the way they dress, walk, speak, and behave towards others.  Then flesh out the detail of the other characters involved in the same way.  Think about the back stories that brought the characters to this place on your blank page and describe to yourself that place where they are to be found.  Set a time, an unbreakable time some three days ahead when you will sit down and write the complete piece of work and, for the moment, lay aside your plan, your research notes and so on.  You might be tempted on days one and two just to get on with it but you should resist that temptation.  My belief and Dorothea Brande’s credo is that the project will have been slow-cooking in your unconscious and will be all the tastier for that. You have set the time and date so, when it arrives, sit down and begin.

Let your novel writing ideas slow-cook

Later, you will get to grips with writing projects that cannot be completed in one session but, for the moment, stick at this project until you have finished the first draft from which you will rise, gladder but wiser.  Write confidently, steadily, knowing the subject and the outcome clearly from the preparation and for the gestation processes it has gone through.  Brande writes with emphasis: Whether or not you are going to like it when you read it later, whether or not you decide you can do a better version of it if you try again, the exercise is not done properly unless you rise from the session with a complete practice story. [p. 143]

When you rise from this task, put the finished work away for another three days before you read it critically.  Any too rapid review may prejudice your reaction when the time comes for that serious, critical appraisal.  What you are likely to find is a whole set of reactions: scenes you had thought beforehand were critical do not seem to have made it onto the page while other ideas have developed that may surprise you.  The characters have not behaved as you felt they should or would.  There will be turns of phrase and whole sentences and paragraphs that surprise and delight or distress you.

How has it happened that a story, a piece of serious work which you planned in some detail and thought about for three days before getting down to writing, has metamorphosed into what you see on the page?  The answer is that, in your unconscious, your imagination and creativity have been given full play and have delivered their version of your original idea.

Repeat this exercise another couple of times and look back with satisfaction on three jobs well done.  All three might benefit from further revision or even complete rewriting but that is where the critical, conscious mind operates.  It is within your unconscious that your imagination and your creative writing will live and grow.

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