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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole by Emily Hanlon

Here's a practical technique to help you open up your mind to the wonderland of your unconscious-as published on Writer's Digest's website.


Creativity is a subtle and magnificent dance between the rational and the intuitive, between the left and right parts of the brains, between technique and imagination. Both partners in this dance are absolutely necessary and needed in equal proportion, which means imagination is as important as technique, and vice versa.

If you live only in the imagination, you'll never get organized; you'll never complete your story. However, if you start from the rational, linear, organizational part of the process, (e.g., must have the perfect opening sentence and first paragraph), you'll never fall into the rich, passionate, cosmic landscape of the imagination where anything is possible.

The main problem I've seen in my 25 years of teaching fiction writing is over-dependence on the rational part of the equation. People want to get the story written and get it out. They want to leapfrog the process, get the words down on the page and finish the story. (Not that there's anything wrong with finishing your story!) But it's in the process of writing that the writer experiences the deeper, life-enhancing journey of creativity.

There are many examples of ways we short-cut gifts offered by the creative process. Take the adage, "Write what you know." If you write only about what you know, you're limited to your conscious mind. You'll remain stuck in the straightjacket of your conscious perception of reality. This is totally contradictory to creativity, which by definition brings into existence that which hasn't been before. Your experiences can be a jumping-off point for your writing, but the key is to not be a slave to the known. Rather, have your writer's antenna on the lookout for the unknown and the unseen. Gertrude Stein put it this way: "You cannot go into the womb to form the child...What will be best in it [your writing] is what you really do not know now. If you knew it all it would not be creation but dictation."

Paradoxically, when you write from the imagination you're writing what you know but from such a deep level of knowing that you don't know that you know it until it's revealed in your writing.

When you're true to the process, you discover worlds that you didn't know existed. I call this "Falling down the Rabbit Hole into Wonderland," which is a perfect metaphor for the creative journey that can never take place in the real or conscious world. Creative writing finds its origins in the dark, fertile chaos of the unconscious—your personal Wonderland. If you don't meet Cheshire cats and Mad Hatters, Tweedledees and Tweedledums, mad queens, dragons, flying monkeys and monsters, or your own version of the above, then you haven't fallen down the rabbit hole. You don't have to be writing fantasy or horror to open yourself up to your unconscious, but the journey must metaphorically hold a sprinkling of both.

There's tremendous freedom for you as a writer in falling down the rabbit hole because the Inner Critic is terrified of the creative unconscious, which is the place of feelings, dreams and images; it's the place of intuition and imagination. The Inner Critic has no imagination. It knows what it knows; it loves order and the status quo. Its home is the world of linear thought, judgment, language and evaluation. That is why, if you begin your story looking for the perfect opening sentence or paragraph, you're headed for trouble. How many hours have you wasted on the search for the perfect first sentence, only to find you've hopelessly spun your wheels? You end up disgusted and depressed, with the Inner Critic ranting:
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"I'll never write again. I might as well give up now."

"Nobody wants to read what I write anyway."

"Just look at all this time I wasted! I would have been better off cleaning the toilets."

"I'm stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! And I don't have a creative bone in my body!"

Sound familiar? It's prime-time Inner-Critic jabber.

Compare this scenario to writing in the rush of creative white heat. Time flies by unnoticed; when you finish writing, you're exhilarated and feel so complete you don't have to read what you wrote just then. The memory of the writing experience settles about you like a warm, cozy shawl. Next morning, though, you can't wait to read what you wrote. And when you do, you're delighted.

Wow, I wrote that, you think. Except, wondrously, you have no memory of writing the words.

There's a reason for that. You, the conscious you, weren't writing. You, the conscious you, weren't thinking language. You had lost your conscious self to your characters and the unfolding drama. You were writing from your heart and gut. You were in Wonderland.

This is writing as a visceral experience, and writing should be, first and foremost, a visceral experience. You have to feel your stories and characters in your body. In fiction writing, this means you have to become your character, which can happen only in Wonderland. There, free of the Inner Critic, you have the possibility of experiencing real creative freedom, and the passionate characters and stories that await. Then the true dance can begin.

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♥ Julia