Writing is an adventure, and the excitement it generates comes from more than getting words on the page. When our writing chooses its own way, or even just meanders, it can take us to surprising and provocative places. I see these journeys emerge in workshops often, and their origin is something of a mystery.
It’s easy for me, the facilitator, to give permission to write freely, to write your most passionate thoughts, your wildest images, your most fantastic ideas, your deepest feelings. But that doesn’t make it happen.
I watch for a mischievous glint in someone’s eye, and then wait for that glint to ignite a spark that goes all around the room. The spark does this on its own, as if everyone is already primed for something interesting. “I’ll let out my wildest thoughts if you’ll let out yours,” the spark seems to say. “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours.”
A few moments into it, though, the game changes. That wild idea or that passionate thought – whatever we started with – has another thought following close behind, a wilder thought, or one that’s nastier, or one that’s more vulnerable. And that’s followed in turn by a whole string of thoughts, and they could be heading somewhere very dangerous.
We’ve been on a high-dive platform, egging each other on, and our first negotiation now looks way mild. It should be something like, “I’ll take this hazardous journey if you will, too. I’ll follow through to the end if you will, too, no matter what happens.”
The pool we’ve jumped into turns into an ocean and the ocean sucks us in. The current will take us, well, who knows where? To another universe, a dark forbidden room, a plethora of disturbing thoughts, a light movie of our own life, a carnival of mythic passion? We risk a lot more than getting wet.
We are brave adventurers. We’ve dived into the source of our creativity, somewhere in the unknown 99 percent of the brain’s province, where the creative unconscious lives – though the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?” suggests the figure should be 99.999999995 percent. That’s a lot of strange territory and, by definition, it’s all operating with unfamiliar logic.
Perhaps we knew where we were going, perhaps we had some idea what our material might be, but when it’s on the page, it’s a different animal. Scruffy, full of energy, slightly or almost totally unfamiliar, there’s no denying where it came from and it’sÂ looking us in the eye. Now begins the challenge to understand it.
We’ve been on one heck of an adventure.
“Oh God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.”
We could be overcome with fear and trembling but, usually, we are pleasantly excited. Could it be we’ve misread the origin of our arousal? Our conscious mind, this tiny boat, has a way of persuading that we understand how things work, and it could be in error. That excitement might be transmitted directly to our bodies and psyches by the material itself.
Hair rose on my neck as I wrote that sentence. I wonder if this is the source telling me, in its own way, that I’m hitting the bull’s eye. Our material has been residing in unlit halls, unacknowledged and untouched, and there’s suddenly a crack of daylight. A door is opening. Our material has a chance to push itself into the world for the first time.
Maybe it’s overcome with excitement at the possibility of finally being seen.
(With help from Katie Amatruda and Jeff Karon.)