Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Daydreaming is work, dammit

I'm becoming less enamored of the school of thought that says writers must chain themselves to their desks, or laptops, fingers stuck gecko-like to their keyboards, typing constantly. The worst thing, as I understand this paradigm, is to not be typing. You must type nonsense, if need be, in order to produce a predetermined number of words or pages every day. Any failure to always be typing is strictly punishable by an immediate diminution of self-worth, accompanied by muttering. You know you're kidding yourself, sweetheart. You're not writing. Moreover, you are one of those people who claims to be a writer while not even doing it--a pretentious weenie of the worst sort!

So allow me to offer a defense of lying on the couch and staring into space instead of typing. Yes, helpful stuff does occasionally come out in the nonsense. There's pleasure in hearing your keys clack busily as your words darken the space before you, like a swarm of locusts. But I'm finding there's value in not chasing the story quite so urgently, and instead letting it come to me. I don't mean just sitting there waiting for inspiration, expecting lightning to strike and doing nothing to prepare for it. I mean letting the story turn quietly in my mind for days, even weeks or months, before writing a word--or maybe after I've written some words, but didn't get all the way to the end.

For me, even digital words have a kind of permanence that makes me feel slightly committed to them. I begin to feel the story is "taking shape," when, often, the shape itself needs to remain in question. Daydreaming allows me to play with the shape itself, even to see that shape, in a way. That is, I can envision that shape fluctuating; I see its openness, though not its actual form. I allow it to move in directions that the linear format of typing, even typing nonsense, already restricts. I also get a sense of how much the story really needs to be written. If I don't write it and it keeps coming back, and keeps moving, then I know I should do it. And at that point the writing is relatively easy.

I imagine this doesn't work for everybody; it's probably some manifestation of my particular learning style combined with my aesthetic ambitions. I want to experiment with structure, to let not only characters and events, but language itself shape the narrative. And I'm beginning to believe that typing too soon interferes with this process. I think the process is in part non-verbal or pre-verbal or extra-verbal. Words are only one part of writing.

To which I'll just add, in preparation for another post: Barthelme! Barthelme, Barthelme, Barthelme, Barthelme! Barthelme!

No comments: