Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Writing fiction

Writing fiction cannot be done without the co-operation of the sub-conscious mind. That’s the dreaming mind, the childlike primitive mind whose native territory is the imagination.

Put to it, I could write an article, a sermon, or a section for a non-fiction book under almost any circumstances. Ideally, there is time to think, to prepare, to get in the zone. Sometimes there isn’t. Every now and then arises a fluke situation where 1-2-3-GO! applies. May not be my best work ever, but it’s not far off, and passes muster.

Fiction is different, though. The planning, executing, grown-up mind has no choice but to wait on the tricksy wildness of the sub-conscious mind, inhabit its landscape – basically, do what it wants.

In my own experience (yours may be different) this is why routine and discipline are essential to writing fiction: because the subconscious mind is another term for the inner child. Just as routine and discipline get the best results out of children, so do they from the inner child the writer has to lure forth to write fiction.

And I have found there is a contract that mustn’t be broken. So I can say to the subconscious mind, ‘I expect you there at 5.30 sharp the next morning, and we have 2,000 words to do. You can have breakfast and a cup of tea, then you must push through to 1,000 before you do anything else. After that, you can do physical, active things until lunch-time. Then I expect you back here for the 2nd thousand words. After that, you are free to play. You can watch telly or read or go for a walk, or chat to the people you like. After your 2,000 words are done, you don’t have to do any more work until tomorrow.’

And my subconscious mind listens intently, takes it all in, says, ‘Okay!’ And that’s what we do. Everything goes fine. It’s happy, I’m happy. All is well.

But woe betide me if I break the contract.

This can happen in two ways, both common enough.

One is that I get interrupted.  

I have made three attempts at describing here what might constitute such an interruption, and deleted them all. Best I not identify the typical sources of interruption! Suffice it to say, sometimes they are personal, sometimes professional.

If I am interrupted, my subconscious self / inner child goes nuts. Furious, despairing, wringing its hands, beside itself with rage – ‘BUT YOU PROMISED WE COULD WRITE THE STORY! YOU SAID WE COULD!’

At such times I am hardly accountable for what I might say to those who interrupt me. There’s a reason people who write novels incarcerate themselves in rented villas on faraway islands.

The second thing that can happen is my conscious mind tries to take advantage of a Good Thing. It sees the subconscious mind is out, all singing and dancing, doing what was asked of it, spinning stories like candyfloss made of light. And the conscious mind makes the mistake of saying, ‘Oh, right! How about 4,000 words, then today?’

It’s the old fairy tale (Rumpelstiltskin) of the miller’s daughter, locked in with a heap of straw and a spinning wheel – ‘Spin that straw into gold before morning,’ says the Prince. And she does! She does! Is he pleased? Sort of. He locks her into a bigger room with even more straw in it and says, ‘Okay. Now this one.’


Shocked, duped, betrayed, the subconscious mind stands gaping. ‘Four thousand words? Two. You said two – then you said we could play! You said after two, no more until tomorrow. You promised.’

I find, it doesn’t work if I break the contract. But with discipline, routine and no interruptions, the work moves with joy like the rhythm of the sea.

Novelists, take time to play. Move far away from Porlock.


tonia said...

Very insightful. And in my experience, very true!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

I'd never heard of the Person from Porlock, despite living more or less opposite the place across 18 miles of the Bristol Channel! I found the link fascinating.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - poor old Coleridge! xx

Nearly Martha said...

This is very interesting but I also find it true of non fiction and even blogging. I can sit down to do one blog and because it has gone well,I think that I will just do another and it is pants! As if the back of my head has said I just was supposed to do one. It can be quite frustrating sometimes if I am trying to get ahead.

Ganeida said...

Oh dear. I laughed. And I always felt rather sorry for the Porlock chappie. How was he to know Coleridge was writing Kubla Khan?

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi friends


That's interesting, Nearly Martha - yes, it sounds as if you need space and time to re-group before moving on to the next piece, when you write.

Ganeida - You have put your finger right on it. The person from Porlock could not possibly have known: it was up to Coleridge (or substitute the name of any writer) to take responsibility for himself.


Anonymous said...

I love how your writing helps me to understand myself better, and grow more peace all throughout my life. :)

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Anonymous said...

Everything intrudes...

Pen Wilcock said...

Uh-oh! That sounds like a heart-felt experience of frustration! Peace and blessing to you, friend xx

Anonymous said...

Pen, I love your writing. It has blessed me enormously through different seasons of my life. I just wish I could share your books with my Spanish speaking friends but I can´t find them in Spanish...is there a chance that at least the Hawk and the Dove Trilogy will be translated into Spanish some time soon?

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you! I'm not sure about translation into Spanish, but I'll draw my publisher's attention to your question.