Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Mechanics of the Mind - Lucy Coats


Dreaming seems (if you will forgive the pun) to be on some of the ABBA bloggers’ minds lately, and it set me to wondering. Does anyone else use sleep and dreaming as a conscious (I use the word advisedly) writing tool—as an aid to working out those knotty plot problems which hinder any further writing progress until they are resolved? Perhaps I am just weird, but maybe—just maybe—this odd habit of mine might help someone else who is stuck in their writing process. So here goes….

Going to bed for an occasional nap in the middle of the afternoon is something I have done for years—ever since I had M.E.. I refuse to feel guilty about this, even in the face of disapproving looks and mutterings about laziness and the cushiness of being an author who works at home. It’s simply the way I keep going when I need to recharge my very-prone-to-going-flat physical batteries. I have also discovered that I can use afternoon napping to my creative advantage. I am currently writing a sequel to my first novel, Hootcat Hill. This one is bigger, for a slightly older age group, and a good deal more complicated, since I have to keep track of several other worlds and two parallel plots (which will eventually merge). Although I know where I am going with the whole book—in a very broadly brushed sense of the word ‘know’—I quite often come to a point (and it’s always in that dead, middle part of the afternoon) where I can’t see further ahead than the next full stop. I have learnt that staring at the screen intently does no good at all when I am in this stuck frame of mind. Nor does grinding of the teeth, nor shouting at the characters to ‘just come on and tell me what you’re doing next’. They simply carry on being obstinate, obdurate, silent—at least they do in the awake world. In the dreaming world they are active, alive and vocal. It is usually at this point that I sigh, surrender gracefully and enact a small ritual—if housework, food shopping, general life management and the myriad siren calls of the outside world allow me to.

I switch off the computer (and the phone and the mobile). I make myself a hot water bottle (the central heating is broken and my bedroom is cold). I undress and dress again in my snuggly ‘inspiration’ pyjamas. I get into bed, lying on my back (not my nighttime sleeping position), and close my eyes. It’s just me and the characters and the plot now. Nothing else is allowed to intrude. ‘So what is going on?’ I ask in a relaxed sort of way inside my head. ‘Where do we need to go next?’ I fix the problem in my mind—really think about its shape and form, and about why exactly it is that it has appeared. I allow myself to drift into it, quite casually (and yes, I do use meditation techniques here to block out the irrelevant mindchatter). Sleep comes—but it is a conscious sort of sleep—a focussed sleep. I may wake an hour later, sometimes less, sometimes more. The important thing is that when I do wake up, I usually know where I am going next with the book—the mechanics of my particular mind have allowed my characters to wander around in my unconcious and sort things out for themselves—and they are kind enough to let me know this so that I can carry on mapping their lives. So for me, napping is working (daydreaming is working too, in my opinion—but that’s a whole other story). I do, however, find it terribly difficult to get this message across to other people—and I wonder why my acts of dreaming make everyone outside my immediate family so cross and snarly when I mention them? I am simply using the writing tools that work best for me. The tools that get creative results and help me to write books that I can sell—for money. Is that so hard to understand?

9 comments:

Anne Rooney said...

If you can be paid for sleeping and dreaming, Lucy, that is fantastic! It sounds a brilliant plan, very seductively described. But sleeping in the middle of the day always leaves me feeling sick. I suspect, too, that homecoming children would be horrified if they got in and I was in bed and claiming I was working - they'd probably assume I'd turned to prostitution. Still, it might be more profitable...

Lucy Coats said...

Not with the new vice laws it wouldn't!

Lee said...

No, you're not weird, or no weirder than I am. As I indicated in one of my comments, I do something similar. But perhaps people don't read my comments, since I'm not a 'real' writer.

Lucy Coats said...

I think you'll find people DO read your comments, Lee. I for one always find them illuminating, instructive and to the point, and it's really nice to have someone who comments regularly on the blog posts. It's good to know there's SOMEONE out there reading all this! But please don't say you're not a 'real' writer (which is something you refer to quite often). Anyone who has finished one YA novel and is onto another is a real writer in my book.

Brian Keaney said...

I've been writing books for a quarter of a century and I'm still not convinced I'm a real writer

Lucy Coats said...

Maybe none of us are--deep down (or not so deep down in my particular case) is always the feeling that I could always do better, write faster, or whatever the black shoulder dog is whispering in my ear today. And I also always feel, when I meet other writers, that they are somehow doing it in some superior fashion to me--even though I know, from conversations I have often had, that they feel the same way I do! Oh, our fragile creative egos!

Lee said...

Thanks, Lucy and Brian. I didn't mean to sound curmudgeonly but I do get discouraged sometimes - too often, probably. Just recently, for example, I was told on a public forum that some criticism I voiced of a particularly popular American YA novel must be a case of 'sour grapes'. One of the reasons I've cut back on discussing/reviewing YA novels on my own blog has been exactly this assumption.

(Criticism should never be mean-spirited or self-serving, but I believe we're doing YA literature a disservice by an unwillingness to review fellow writers. However ...)

Lee said...

And here's a link to installation artist Luke Jerram, who is working in dream space:

http://www.dreamdirector.net/index.html

Lucy Coats said...

Thanks, Lee--this is a fascinating link. They're doing one near me in May next year, so shall try and see if they'll take me as a guinea pig!