Friday, June 1, 2012
Essay: Writing is My Mind Dreaming on Paper
Writing is My Mind Dreaming on Paper
There have been more times than I can remember when I woke up in the middle of the night and had one of two reactions. The first, and more frequent reaction, is that I wanted to try to fall back to sleep as fast as I could because I was hoping that if I fell immediately back to sleep, I wouldn’t miss what was continuing to happen in the pleasant dream I was having. It would pick up exactly where it had left off and my subconscious could give me the mysterious happy ending it was building towards. The second reaction would be one that was panicked and would make me sit up in bed with my heart racing. I had woken up just before something terrible was about to happen in a nightmare. But if I had seen what happened next, it may not have been scary at all.
Whether I have pleasant reveries or intense nightmares, I love to dream. The feeling of being totally out of control as to where and when my mind will take me is exciting and anything is possible. For me, writing is like dreaming. Both allow me to release all of my inner thoughts and let my imagination run wild. When I lie down and fall asleep, and when I sit down and start writing, the possibilities are endless.
This is why a dreamless sleep is just as disappointing as not having the time to write. If my mind doesn’t explore its farthest corners while I sleep, in the morning with the feeling of refreshment also comes slight disappointment. What had happened that I missed? What was it that I didn’t see? The same feeling of loss and wasted time also overwhelms me if I look back over a period (a couple days, a week, or even a month), during which I put nothing on a page. Sometimes writer’s block can strike, I might be too tired, or I might just not have the time to write. There are times when I justify not allowing myself to write because I was working two jobs or my mind is constantly bombarded by school work.
Other times I look back and realize there was no excuse for that wasted period of time. I often ask myself, why did I spend that time watching TV or playing video games? Did I miss having ideas because I was being mindlessly entertained? The answer to these questions isn’t as important as the fact that I just wasn’t as happy doing those things as I usually am when I spend my time writing.
There are many other ways in which dreaming and writing are so similar within my mind. Dreams can have specific plot lines or series of scenes, much like a piece of writing. They also may be flashes of images. In our dreams, our minds don’t always work in a linear way. There is no direct, linear relation between a ring worn on a finger and the ring of a telephone, but in a dream two homophones can easily lead to one another. This can also happen in writing. A technique for writing creative fiction is adding motifs to connect ideas or communicate underlying themes of a story. For example, a ring is a line connected to itself in a round or circular shape. An engagement ring is a piece of jewelry that shows connection between two people who are committed to one another. A telephone rings because one person is trying to connect with another person verbally. The repetition of these things in a work of fiction (if used affectively), can create a motif of connection.
Dreams and writing are also similar because dreams can combine unrelated events, people, or things I’ve encountered. This is how ideas come to me to write as well. Often, like Stephen King (although I am not presumptuous enough to imply that I am or ever will be a legendary writer like Stephen King), I have two separate ideas or events that are combined and inspire a story. The ideas or events could have been from experiences I had or things I observed. They may even come from something I might have looked at one time, but didn’t really see. No matter how the ideas came to me, I can’t explain why my brain decided to present them to me at that point in time.
If I have a story idea that comes from two different things I’ve experienced, what is it that makes me combine those two events, especially if they are unrelated? For example, this past semester I wrote a creative fiction story for another class about two rebellious teens that got in trouble for drinking from an old bottle of brandy. It sounds like a boring story idea doesn’t it? Rebellious teenagers, underage drinking…It’s been done! But then for some reason I connected this event to the time of the Salem witch trials in Massachusetts. It makes sense that the idea of starring rebellious teenagers in my story came to me. A week prior to writing the story, my aunt told me that she caught my little cousin drinking underage. I also love the city of Boston and visited Massachusetts, but I was only there once and that was six years ago.
What was it that made me connect these two completely separate ideas? Why do two unrelated things collide in my mind and jump start my imagination? Even if I have a dream or writing idea that is completely fictional, where does that come from? I’m posing all of these questions in this essay because I can’t answer them.
Some of these questions could be answered if it was known how ideas come to be. Neurologists can pinpoint the locations and parts of the brain that produce the different cognitive actions. Psychiatrists can analyze why we think certain ways or why we think the way we do, but if you can find me one that can definitively say why thoughts appear in our conscious or unconscious minds at particular times (or just why in general), please give me his or her name because I won’t believe that such a person exists until I shake his or her hand.
This is why I remind myself that when a story idea comes to me, I shouldn’t waste time questioning how or why it came to be. I should sit down and start my writing process, in which I take my notebook or laptop to my comfortable recliner placed in the quietest room of the house. I keep the TV turned off. I close my eyes for a moment and take a deep breath. Then I open my eyes and let myself write freely.
When I write, sometimes I have to clear my head and let my imagination and the pen take me where they want to go. If I do this, it will keep me from over thinking or over analyzing a first draft. I will be able to let the idea put itself on the page and unfold in a natural way. I should do this in the same way that I let myself fall back to sleep in the middle of the night and let my imagination finish the dream for me.
Carrie Watson - May 2012