Thursday, September 24, 2020

Taking My Time


I wrote in July about the influence of David Milch on my writing and the concept of “resting transparently.” An exercise he promotes is to sit down and start typing a scene. Two characters: Voice 1 and Voice 2. Nothing but dialog. Type whatever comes to mind for no less than 25 minutes and no more than 50. Stop when you begin to think about what you’re doing. When finished, seal it in an envelope and forget about it. As Milch puts it, “Give it to God.”


Milch believes writers too often think about what the writing can do for us, or how it will be received, or, ultimately, if it will sell. Or how well. The point of the exercise is to pull the creative process away from that. His point is that your best writing gives you the best chance of success, and your best writing often comes from a place the conscious mind may be reluctant, or afraid, to go. Resting transparently is letting go and trusting your subconscious.


I don’t have much time for exercises. The day job still consumes almost half my waking hours. What I can do is to put the concept to work for me.


I’m writing this after supper. The work-in-progress awaits. When I finish here I’ll do something else for a while to clear my head. When I’m ready to get to work I’ll take a few seconds, no more than 30, and refresh my memory of where I am in the book. Then I’ll walk into my reading room, sit in my chair, and close my eyes. Whatever comes to mind comes to mind. I make no conscious effort to direct it.


Sometimes it’s a little while before the book takes over. Sometimes—and more often recently—I sit no more than a few minute before I know exactly what comes next. I about launch myself out of the chair to get to the keyboard.


The session goal is 500 words. If I hit a roll, I keep going until I start thinking too much, or I start feeling good about what I’ve done. Either of those involves the ego, and the ego is the enemy of creativity. When that happens it’s time to stop. With rare exceptions, this takes 25 – 50 minutes.


Where this method works best is on days I don’t work the day job and I can repeat the process three or four times. It seems to work so long as I leave an hour or so between sessions. Do that three times a day and I’ll have at least 1500 words and quite possibly more than 2500, because, once begun, every session gets easier as more comes to mind virtually unbidden.


It also helps that this is the first draft. There are misspelled words and mangled grammar. There are sentences I’ll look at in three months and wonder, “What the hell does this mean?” Doesn’t matter. There are no mistakes. There are only things that need to be better. That’s what edits are for.


First drafts were always drudgery for me. Now I look forward to the next session. This may be the best first draft I’ve ever written. I don’t know if it will be the best book—a draft often bears only passing resemblance to a finished novel—but I’m delighted with what I’ll have to work with.


I’ve discovered chapters I’ll need to add. Leave them for the end, then find good places for them. Sanding off the unintentional edges are what edits are for. (Scrivener’s note cards are great for this. Just create a new card, type in a slug, and I’ll get to it when I get to it.) What’s best is the lack of anxiety. Every first draft I’ve written has had several, “Oh shit” moments. Not once in this one—so far—and I’m at least two-thirds of the way through.


I’ve known for years I’m more left-brained than it’s good for a creative person to be. Resting transparently allows my right brain to breathe. Taking my time allows what comes next to form itself in my subconscious so when I’m ready to rest transparently, what I need is right there.


I never think about writing when I’m not writing anymore, which is another Milchian trademark. That doesn’t mean ideas don’t come to me unbidden. I came home from shopping recently with well over half of the plot for a new Nick Forte novel so well formed I typed out 1500 words of notes. Didn’t have to think about them. Just wrote down what was on the tips of my fingers.


We’re all looking for a way to open the tap in our brains that lets out the words we want in the order in which we want them. Resting transparently and taking my time will not make me more talented. They might help me to stay out of my own way.

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