The Invisible Dimension in Writing Fiction by Angela Young, author of Speaking of Love and The Dance of Love
When I went back to work on my third novel I didn’t like what I read. Until then, I had thought I was writing an okay first draft, but after Christmas, I thought I wasn’t. It got worse. I ended up feeling it was really bad. Badly written and badly conceived. I decided I had no idea how to write this novel which I’d originally been so excited about. I ended the day feeling low and sad and not knowing how to make it work.
I talked to my other half about it and then let it drop. He couldn’t advise me because I couldn’t articulate what was wrong. I just felt awful and I knew the novel was bad, but I didn’t know why.
The following morning, after a surprisingly long and good night’s sleep, I woke up with ideas about what the novel was really about and my mood lifted. Feeling so much better about it, and without knowing why, I wrote a list of scenes that excited me and told myself I’d work out where they fit into the novel later.
I made what some writers call a washing-line. It’s far less detailed than a plan of scenes and what happens in them: it’s just a list that begins with a sentence about the first scene (the washing-line’s first post) and then you peg sentences about the major events along the line and end with the last scene (the washing-line’s last post).
Then, because a couple of the washing-line events were already written, I went back to the pieces I’d felt so bad about and I realised that they weren’t so bad after all…perhaps in the wrong order or not naturally following the river of the story, but actually they weren’t so bad. I decided to go back to the place in the novel where I’d stopped reading and felt so awful, and write from there, but with the safety-net of my washing-line (apologies for mixed metaphors!)–my soul’s list, if you like–knowing I could thread the washing-line scenes in whenever I felt bad again.
I still didn’t know how I had managed the overnight transformation from ‘this is so bad’ to ‘this is not bad at all’ when I was reading exactly the same words. And then I heard Sue Tribolini’s interview with Stewart Cubley about the invisible dimension in painting (14 January, 2015 The Invisible Dimension Radio on A2zen.fm), and I realised what I’d done. I had drained the words that I had re-read of their vitality by my own judgements. Cubley said, “We don’t realise the ramifications of our own judgements.” I’d judged what I’d written as bad and so I’d emptied the words of their vitality.
Cubley said, “When you get out of your own way, something quite profound happens”. I then realised that while I had been asleep, I got out of my own way and shut off my brain. My sleep had thrown my ego and my judgements out and let in my soul, my unconscious, and all my original exciting ideas. When I woke up, my belief in the novel was back.
What I realised through this apparently magical transformation (after all, I didn’t do anything!), is that when I feel like that again, or when I’m simply stuck, I need to get out of my own way. That’s quite difficult with writing because I’m dealing with words all the time. If you paint or compose music there are no words to keep you in your logical brain. The thing I know now, is that a writer needs to do anything but write when she’s feeling bad about her writing. She needs to go for a walk, have a bath, sleep, meditate, paint, or listen to music, while acknowledging that there are difficulties with the piece she’s working on and that she hasn’t a clue what to do about it, but that writing more (or re-reading what she’s written) won’t work at that moment.
As Giacometti said, “When you get to the point where you don’t know what you’re doing, things start to happen”.
I never really understood what he meant before, but now I think he meant that when you’re unhappy with a piece, stop. Stop forcing it and stop judging it. Acknowledge that it’s not working, and then find a way to get out of your way, out of your logical brain, and something will surely happen.