Artists, makers, writers, and deep thinkers, take note:
If you throw darts at your subconscious self, she will show up at your desk, gather all your notes and turn them into gibberish, and then disappear.
I don't recommend this.
So much better to send your subconscious brownies, mochas, flowers, wine, kittens, knitting patterns, cozy socks... Send it some love. Big floppy valentines and silly movies. Love your subconscious, and bless its heart, the subconscious will love you right back.
Last week I had this tiny little tantrum about not knowing what the heck I was doing. I glared at my manuscript and my manuscript sent me a scowl of its own. Meanwhile, my subconscious, that most versatile and helpful of sidekicks, stood to one side with her arms folded.
They're so difficult at this age, she said as she watched my fits and shrieks.
I'll just admit right here: I'm not that comfortable talking about THE SUBCONSCIOUS all the time. Makes me feel a little goofy, like I'm just two steps away from dressing up in ridiculous head scarves and ropes of pearls and spending my time whispering to windows.
But there has to be some way to talk about that sense of otherness. This story isn't coming from the same place that scribbled answers to trigonometry quizzes and chemistry equations. Stories come from the murky mysterious side of things. Call it the subconscious or don't: it's still there and it's still essential.
Stephen King famously refers to that story-making side as "the boys in the basement"; Heather Sellers talks about the compost pile of ideas and experiences from which the best stories rise.
Whatever it is, you have to take care of it.
So after my tantrum, I finally quieted down enough to remember:
When the unknowingness gets frantic, I have to decide that it's okay to not know what comes next.
It's okay. To not know.
My job isn't so much based on knowing; my job is just to write some words down. That's really it.
So writing is dreaming. But how do you get the right dreams? Jack London said, you can't wait around for inspiration, you have to "light out after it with a club."
With a club, my friends.
And that's how I turned my manuscript around over the weekend. Not by working hard, not with blood or sweat or tears. I lit out with a club, with butterfly nets and mousetraps, checking every trap and hole I could find for the inspiration I needed.
I watched movie trailers compulsively, paying attention to anything that sparked my heart, any premise that I found fascinating. There you go, I thought. Let's see what you make of that.
I listened to Pandora radio and assigned every song to a character. The best songs were the ones that didn't seem to fit anyone. So I'd toss them at a random character and make a case for why that was the right character and the right song.
I drowned myself in poetry before falling asleep, mixing and matching the images in my head. And I asked myself a story question each night before bed, sticking it in my subconscious's inbox. Take a look at that overnight, if you have the time, I thought. No big deal. Just see what you think.
I was a little nervous this morning. Mondays. They always take a bit of extra oomph, right? But I sat down and wrote ten pages without breaking a sweat.
Ten pages?? Without any bleeding? And after a meltdown last week?
I can't say subconscious one more time without needing to slap myself in the face. Compost is smelly, and "boys in the basement" hits me weird. So how about this for an out-there metaphor:
Feeding the bears.
Those are the bears that come up with the stories. I don't have to force them to do anything; I just find all their favorite treats. I light out after inspiration with a club; I catch it and bring it back home and give it to the bears.
I have no idea what story they will come up with. It's always wilder that I expect, always startling. And yet--I'm thrilled and breathless, being pulled along by something much bigger than I am.
And if I keep the bears happy, they're going to dream up the rest of this crazy, untamed story.
So if you'll excuse me, tomorrow is coming, and I've got some traps to check.