Even though my week has been topsy turvy, filled to the brim with family obligations, car repairs, the beginning of fall musical activities, and of course, regular work responsibilities, I’ve felt the urge to write quite often during the middle of these hectic days. You know what I mean – ideas popping into your head unbidden, like gifts you can’t wait to open, tickling your brain and leaving your fingers itching to pick up a pencil.
Yet even when you get in the mood to write, circumstances aren’t always conducive to actually writing. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop everything when the ideas start coming, and write until we’re exhausted? Sadly, that usually isn’t the case, and writing all too often goes on the back burner of life. So we must learn how to rekindle that urge to write, get ourselves mentally and emotionally back into the place where the imagination is free to roam.
The writer’s state of mind, says Jack Heffron, is a state of “alert passivity, a state of mind that allows us to trust our instincts and frees us to take risks.” (The Writer’s Idea Book) The writing state of mind occurs when our brains are alert, yet not aggressively pursuing a train of thought. The phrase my yoga instructor uses is “willful determination without putting pressure on yourself to be perfect.”
Have you ever noticed that your best ideas usually come when you’re doing something completely unrelated to writing? For me, it’s usually when I’m driving to work in the morning…my brain is fresh, I’m anticipating the tasks ahead of me, and then it suddenly occurs to me that the character in my story should already be having an affair when the story starts, or that I could write an interesting essay about that one old home still standing amidst all the new office buildings along Haggerty road.
In her book Becoming A Writer, Dorothea Brande talks about “the mysterious faculty,” which produces “the flashes of insight, the penetrating intuitions, the imagination which combines and transmutes ordinary experience into the illusion of higher reality.” Each person has their own “individual endowment of genius,” she says. We must only learn to “release” it. Often, she advises, it is some totally unrelated activity – walking, driving, cutting grass or scrubbing floors – that puts the writer into a “state of hypnosis” where the unconscious thoughts are allowed to play.
The writing state of mind also occurs when you relax your brain and let your instincts take over. One of the greatest lessons I learned as a performing musician was to let my instincts take over when I stepped on stage – to stop concentrating all my attention on each note and passage, to relax and let all the practice and preparation do the work for me. As writers, we prepare for our writing “performances” by reading good literature, studying the way other writers work, and mostly by keeping our writer’s mind open to life experiences and the world around us, which will bring us all the ideas we could ever need.
There is undoubtedly a lot of hard work involved in good writing. But I think there’s also something a bit mystical about the writing state of mind. Perhaps it’s similar to what athletes call “the zone”…that place in your mind and body when you become one with the activity, when nothing else in the world matters – not hunger or pain, not ringing telephones or barking dogs -except the work in front of you. For writers, it’s the point where you’ve tapped into that state of mind where the ideas flow freely from the deepest well of your imagination, and your fingers can barely keep pace.
How about you? What’s your writing state of mind these days? How do you access that “mysterious faculty” where insight and imagination are nurtured? How do your instincts about your writing ability help you? What’s your experience of being in “the writing zone”?