So far I have talked about finding your muse as well as working with your creative youth and judgemental elder. Now it is time to look at you genius and how to put it all together.
For some writers, I suspect Stephen King based on his discussion in 'On Writing', your muse and your genius are the same thing. It is the part inside of you that is totally beyond your control but brings the goods.
This is not how I'm going to classify these terms. As defined in Buffyworld (Buffyworld is a phenomenon my brother Dave noted many years ago, and it is a very great place to live, though I am not sure what it would be like if other people lived there too, that might just be scary):
Your Muse: is perceived as something external to you that inspires you to write. It might turn up the ideas, or perhaps just the passion for the task.
Your Creative Youth: this concept was developed for me by Dorothea Brande, and describes that creative spirit that is overflowing with ideas and cares not for order and structure, just for creation and freedom. She termed it as part of your unconscious. However, while it is harder to control and does need you to let go of the reigns to fully function, I think it is not quite at the level of the unconscious. Using more pop-psychology, I am starting to think of it as my Right Brain working.
Your Judgmental Elder: this was summarised by Dorothea as your conscious analytical mind. Very useful in the editing stages, and in the general process of getting you to sit down and write even if you don't feel like it. I think this can be viewed as you Left Brain nature, the logical and ordered aspect of your personality. Not so strong in a lot of 'artistic' souls, but can be cultivated and is very necessary for actually producing an end result.
And then there is Your Genius.
This I believe operates at the real subconscious level. It is involved in that moment where the brilliant solution just suddenly appears fully formed in your mind. It sits there and gobbles away at your problems, and given time and opportunity, it will spit back to you an answer.
Now, Dorothea argues that she believes absolutely everyone has some genius in them, some more than others and some are better at accessing and utilising theirs, but still everyone has one. It is a very nice thought, and idealistically I would like to say I agreed. Unfortunately, I know too many people. In reality there are a few people you just meet and think: wow, you have no spark in you whatsoever, do you? Which is nasty, possibly, though often they do not care and think spark is something to be avoided. Is it mean if it's only an insult in your perception? Well, I suppose so, because my intent is still to think less of them. But it does not change the fact that I do believe that most people have a spark of genius, and a very select few might have originally had it, but something horrible in their childhoods, maybe a great aunt with a love of cats and a hatred of little boys, killed that spark.
Given that premise, if you are reading this blog, and have got this far down the page, you are probably interested in writing, and therefore most likely has some spark within you. So, let us work under the happy belief that if you are reading this, you have some genius.
Therefore, the goal must be to utilise this as much as possible. Clearly, the more 'Aha!' moments you have, a) the more exciting your writing will be for you, b) the more exciting it will be fore your reader and c) the less conscious effort you will have to put into trying to be clever. All these are very desirable things.
So how do you get your genius to come to the party? Dorothea presents facilitation of genius in the following formula:
X is to Mind as Mind is to Body, where X is Genius.
Her argument is that to fully engage your mind (youth or elder) you need to still down the demands your body make on your thinking. Either by being completely still or occupied in some routine task such as walking, knitting, chewing etc., gives your mind a chance to focus on the story. I have mentioned her suggestion of wordlessness. In the chapter on genius she brings up two other requirements for the mind to function at its best: rythmical, monotonous.
That is your secret formula for getting the most out of your mind: spend some time in rhythmical, monotonous, wordless motion and your mind can breathe and think. This is useful information and is helping me to rework my 'wordless' time. I recommend some time looking at your pre-writing activities to make sure they fit these concepts.
So, as putting your body onto autopilot helps your mind to think, Dorothea argues that putting your mind onto autopilot allows your genius to take over for a bit. This is supported by the number of times I get great ideas after sleep, or in the shower. The hot water lulls my mind into a semi coma and bam! great solution to my plot problems appears. (No, I do not then jump out and run down the street yelling Eureka. Stop picturing me naked.)
This then leads to the question of how to consciously quieten your mind without having to go to sleep or run up huge hot water bills (especially since my hot water runs out super quickly. Cold shower, not as effective, let me tell you). The key appears to be practicing meditation. Not weird, wacko, leave your body or follow your spirit guide meditation, but the practice of slowing your thoughts down and trying to stay focused on a single thing.
Like a lot of my discoveries, this is something I've felt God has been telling me to do for ages. I started off with scripture memorisation because it forced my mind to be still and focus on only one thing. At the beginning of this year I then tried to move onto meditation, trying to still my mind and focus only on God. Of course, being human, I then didn't really see the point, so did it sporadically until I had basically lost the ability and the sense that I was supposed to keep my mind from wandering. See what God has to work with?
Dorothea describes steps to developing meditation which are reasonably similar to this in practice, though content of course is different.
First she suggests just a simple test; to try to hold your mind as still as your body.
So, right now, close your eyes and try to hold your mind as still as you can, even if for only a few seconds.
How did you go? If this was easy for you, great. If you were not so successful, then that is a useful skill to develop in aid of your writing.
'The best practice is to repeat this procedure once a day for several days. Simply close your eyes with the idea of holding your mind quite steady, but feeling no urgency or tension about it. Once a day; don't push it or attempt to force it. As you begin to get results, make the period a little longer, but never strain at it.' p. 165.
She then goes back a step for those of us that are slow and have difficulty with that.
'Choose a simple object, like a child's gray rubber ball... hold the ball in your hand and look at it, confining your attention to that one simple object, and calling your mind back to it quietly whenever it begins to wander. When you are able to think of the object and nothing else for some moments, take the next step. Close your eyes and go on looking at the ball, thinking of nothing else. Then see if you can let even that simple idea slip away.' p. 166
That is the basic skill; that you need to relax your mind and give your genius room to move. To apply it to your writing she suggests taking an idea, or a character, and just holding it in your mind and letting your stillness centre around that.
'Presently you will see the almost incredible results. Ideas which you held rather academically and unconvincingly will take on colour and form; a character that was a puppet will move and breathe.' p. 166.
So, this is the last part of the puzzle for putting it all together, the preparation of the artistic mind for creation.
Let us start from the beginning (and so as not to be accused of plagiarism, this is a mixture of Dorothea, Kate Forsyth's advice on Creating Flow, and my own experience/thoughts).
First, you should have an image, a chance phrase, a personal description, something which you consider to indicate you have a book. Take this little spark and spend time blowing on it, brainstorming it out further; fuller descriptions of the characters, charting out possible plots that could include that phrase or image. Dorothea suggests viewing the whole in a pleasant, indulgent mood, seeing what turns up. If you are in the middle of a work, take the scene that you think you will be working on that day. Plot out how far you want to get in the block of time you have set aside for writing. Start building the anticipation for what you will write.
It is then time to give your mind a chance to play with it further. Take the draft with you, and go for a walk around a loop. Not a fast walk, but something that becomes rhythmical and monotonous. In this time, don't think on how to write the story, but just on being in the story. That is, don't choose words to describe scenes, or think of dialogue tags, but just watch your characters talking or the action as it takes place.
Return home and have something light (not sugary or caffeinated) to eat. Kate suggests something like a banana, which makes good sense. I have found toast too insubstantial, porridge good but can make me want to sleep, and straight protein and vegetables filling without inducing drowsiness (had left over steak on mashed cauliflower for breakfast today, which was pretty good, but some might find having steak that early a bit weird, which I can understand).
Then have a shower or a bath. This does wonders for the body, mind and genius.
Now, find yourself a dark space and lie down, unless prone to falling asleep, in that case trying sitting. Now is the genius' time. First, still the body, then still the mind. As Dorothea commands 'lie there, not quite asleep, not quite awake'.
'After a while - it may be twenty minutes, it may be an hour, it may be two - you will feel a definite impulse to rise, a kind of surge of energy. Obey it at once; you will be in a slightly somnambulistic state indifferent to everything on earth except what you are about to write; dull to all the outer world but vividly alive to the world of your imagination... the state you are in at the moment is the state an artist works in.' p.169
Now, I should put in a disclaimer. I have yet to try the entire sequence. In the morning I have been trying to still my mind a bit before sitting down to write, but don't have time to go for a walk before work. After work I go to the gym, eat then have a shower, but then sit straight down and write because I won't have enough time if I try to brainstorm and then meditate.
However, tomorrow is my day off, so I'm going to test out the entire sequence and see how I go. I can imagine that it would probably improve the more you do it, too. So, will see if I can implement it more frequently.
If anyone else wants to test it out and review it as a method, I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.
Until tomorrow night.