Saturday, March 29, 2008

How the Mind Works

Donis thinking, here. I may have mentioned that I finished a book a few weeks ago, and consequently became brain dead. This had happened to me every time. I despair of ever being able to write another word. After a period of time, though, I feel the machinery beginning to turn again. Ideas start to float up from the depths, rather like the cryptic messages in one of those old Eight-balls. They don't seem to have anything to do with anything at first, but then they begin to cohere like a string of DNA. Eventually, if all goes as it has before, some sort of literary creature will take form, stand up, and walk.

And I'm off again.

When I was in college, I'm afraid I was a crammer. I never studied much for tests until a day or two before, then I'd study until my eyes fell out. I'd never recommend this process to anyone, though it seemed to work all right for me. Even at the time, I was aware that in order for cramming to work, I had to have a literal change of consciousness, and become almost hyper- aware. When I look back on it, I think it was just a matter of paying close attention.

When the writing-muscles start to engage again, it feels to me like the same process. I become hyper-aware of what is going on around me, of what other people are saying, of what is in the news, of the weather, but especially of what I'm thinking. Most of the time, my thoughts float around in my head like fluffy little clouds that I pay no attention to, but when I'm in this state, I stare at them until I find interesting shapes.

This is how it works: (I'm not making this up. I sat in a restaurant and wrote my thoughts down.) I see a little girl cross the room coloring. She's left-handed. I notice she has on red cowboy boots. I start noticing the footwear of the other people in the room. A lot of women have pointy-toed shoes. Carrie on "Sex in the City" wears incredibly expensive, uncomfortable shoes. Manolo Bialiks. Manolo is an interesting name. It corresponds to Manuel. We don't have a corresponding English name. Some Jewish guys are named Manny. My brother-in-law's name is Gary, but everyone in the family calls him "Man", because he was such a little man when he was a kid. My husband Don told me that he and Man to throw raw eggs at fence posts when they were kids. That would be a great scene in a book.

And Bob's your uncle. (See Hornswoggled).

I would love to hear about other writers' processes. I imagine everyone's mind works the same, but writers just tend to pay attention.

One word about problem words, if I may (see previous entries). I fear that "lay" and "lie" get me, too. I used to teach English, and I can recite the difference between the two with no difficulty, and I will swear on a stack of Bibles that I know how to use them. My editor doesn't seem to agree, however. So my characters tend to lean back, recline, repose, and set things on the table.

1 comment:

NL Gassert said...

Donis, my mind works in a similar way. I’ve actually started wondering if I could be suffering from adult-onset ADD.