When I was in college, I participated in a study of dreams. Each night for perhaps a month, I would open up my journal, write down “Dreams” and the next day’s date, and then go to sleep. In the morning, as soon as I woke up, I would record everything I could remember about my dreams from the night before. At first, this only took a few minutes. I noted fragments and then got up. But as I kept at it, I remembered more and more of my dreams, and the notebook began to fill with complex scenes, juxtaposed images, long, involved dreamscapes.
Writing a novel at a pace evolves much the same way. At first, if you have not been writing fiction every day, the stories inside you stay hidden. But if you keep the faith, if you boldly title the top of a blank page with your intention to fill it, the stories become willing to appear before your conscious mind. You begin to see–through the act of recording–the depth and the breadth of them, their relationships to each other, the wild, rich world of images that dances in your own mind.
The conscious mind does not always react well to this invasion. It has been taught–painstakingly and slowly–to fear and doubt the products of its sunken treasureship. Whatever you are doing, the conscious mind will not be pleased. At first. You are sneaking around the Berlin walls and barbed wire that want to KEEP OUT the connective, creative worlds inside you. And how are you doing this? By showing up every day. By facing the blank page and letting it be an invitation to your imagination. By being willing to be “wrong” or “bad;” indeed, by stepping outside of those definitions altogether.
Leo woke up early from his nap yesterday. I was there in bed with him, but he sat up and began to cry, and then pointed to the door. “Nursy?” I asked him. He shook his head, stuttering, “No, no, no, no” through his sobs. He didn’t want me to hug him or comfort him. He pointed to the door again, and so we left the room and went downstairs. In the living room he pointed to the empty bookshelf, and I swear I thought that maybe he was seeing my father’s ghost. We do live in his old house, in our raucous, messy way that my father would both have loved and hated. But mostly, I had just never seen Leo so inconsolably upset. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him turn down nursy, unless maybe there was a dog or a slide nearby.
Now I think that perhaps he had had his first bad dream. Well, actually both boys do their share of crying in their sleep, and one of the things we learned from parenting books is not to rush in and wake a sleeping baby just because he is crying. No one knows why we dream. It may be a way to process our day. To integrate our feelings . . . But even people who tell you that they do not dream, do. We all dream. Not all of us pay attention.
The act of paying attention is the radical part of being a writer. It’s also what’s exhausting (and rewarding) about being a parent.
The dream study returned my dreams with their analysis. They had counted up the number of times various objects had turned up in my dreams. They told me that I didn’t wear Burkenstocks. I remember that I had confused the words “president” and “pregnant”–which contained a world of stories they did not even try to guess or fathom. I was disappointed. At nineteen, I wanted someone to study my dreams and learn my hidden self, see my potential, marvel at the vivid worlds that turned up when I was willing to take notes on my nights. I was a dancing princess, and they were looking at my worn out shoes and seeing only poverty.
I am afraid this line of thinking could lead me into another diatribe against critics–and my gentlereader critic pled so well for his profession, its own “suspect class.” (This is the term for a protected minority, as it turns out.)
So I will jump to another square and ask, How do you create the possibility for creativity in your life? How do you made the blank space that will fill from beneath?