Sunday, January 31, 2010

So She Comes Out Laughing



There's a man in London, an advertising exec, who talks in his sleep. His wife got a voice activated digital recorder so she could record what he says. Then she started putting those words on a blog that has well over a million hits now. You can read the story here.
He says things like, "Elephants in thongs are not something you see every day. Enjoy it." Much of what he says is laced with profanity. He admits to being "pent up." I'd say so.
There's also a "sleep talkin' theologian," Dr. Fred Sanders of Biola University, who talks in his sleep. His wife jotted down many things he said during graduate school, mostly as he was in that phase of just waking up. Sometimes she would prod him with questions and, half asleep, he'd answer. Here are some of the transcripts:
Scissors
Coming after me
Walking on their hindquarters.
*
Taking a picture
Of those two foreigners,
And two others.
And mostly it’s us loading our camping equipment into the car
*
Sanctification
It’s like walking through the woods.
He tossed a coin, and I have to get the rest of the stick
*
I was in Esau’s soup.
He was going to eat me up.
[WIFE: how did you get out?]
You got me out.
[how?]
Cut up into little pieces.
*
More of the same.
A bunch of dull people.
There was a roller coaster right in the middle.

So what does any of this have to do with writing? A lot, if you're attentive to it.

Dorothea Brande, in her well known book Becoming a Writer, advocates getting up in the morning and, first thing, jotting down what's in the mind. It is here that rough gems are buried. The trick is to get them out, then choose the ones that are worth polishing.

Stephen King calls this phenomenon "the boys in the basement," the writer's mind and imagination working in the background.

It's something to be nurtured.

Often when I'm in the middle of a novel, working out scenes to come, I'll go to bed with a pad and pen on the table nearby and drift to sleep asking myself questions. Or I'll create a scene in my mind and try to "fade out" with it playing.


Then, first thing in the morning, I'll either jot something on the pad, or get my coffee and start typing the things that come to me.

Not everything is great. In fact, most of it isn't. But quite often, stuck somewhere in the middle or down at the bottom, there's gold. I try to find it and refine it and see what it's telling me about my story.

There's a great line in the classic movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The old prospector, played by Walter Huston, is schooling two fortune hunters (Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt) on the fine art of panning for gold. He puts some sand in a pan and pours water over it, then lazily manipulates the pan. Slowly, some flecks start to shine in the sun. He says that finding the gold takes patience. "You got to know how to tickle it so she comes out laughing."



So here's what to do, writer:

1. Tickle it. Be purposeful in the use of "the boys in the basement." Ask yourself questions at night, or watch a scene as you drift off to sleep. Be ready to get to your keyboard or pad as early as possible the next day.

2. So she comes out laughing. Write for at least ten minutes, without stopping, letting the words and thoughts flow. Don't try to be coherent. Go fast, putting down whatever comes to mind. If you get on an interesting tangent, follow it. See where it leads.

3. Refine it. Later in the day, go back to your notes and start culling for the good stuff. Highlight what you like. Keep these pages in a journal or e-file. At the very least you're going to end up with an interesting diary of your imagination.

So what tricks or techniques do you use to tickle the gold, come up with ideas and get inspired by the muse?

7 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I believe I have two muses. One with silky long black hair and a smile that sparkles brighter than the morning star whispers in my ear. Her breath leaves sends shivers of pleasure through my entire body. She sings and points to things of beauty that I otherwise may not have noticed.

    Her rival is a rather gabby individual. Hair up in a bouncy pony tail, she doesn't sparkle, she pops. Constantly talking and jabbering and tossing ideas into my brain pot at a rate that I can barely digest one before the next comes barreling in. Perky is a word that might describe her.

    Mercifully the two seldom appear at the same time, they are rather abrasive toward one another when they are together. The poetess ends up making vulgar rhymes and the perky one ends up slapping her.

    But they are both very hot, and I quite enjoy both of their company.

    Does that make me a polygamist?

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  3. You cad! Two muses? Some poor sap is sitting at his keyboard, frozen, because of you.

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  4. Basil, I'm not a sap, but your muses scare the cr** out of me. I hope mine never show up as anything remotely like them. James--this post rocks. Thanks so much. I will keep it on my bedside table. (Without Basil's comments.)

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  5. Fabulous stuff here. Thanks for sharing!

    I like to use colors to tweak the muse. If I wake up and all I can think of is pink, I will sit down and do the what is pink about free writing. I am going to try your idea though. Sounds great!

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  6. Kim! Thanks for the kind word. And I like that color idea. Another way into the "basement." Well done.

    Amy, thank you too. Basil's comments, I'm told, are purely optional!

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  7. By the way James, I got the e-book and I started to identify with your character. I tried my hand at stand up several years ago, and very nearly got into the light. Sadly (or happily) the day I got a big break from a lower 48 manager, was the day before I reported to Boot Camp in the USMC. never got back into it after that.

    Luckily, I couldn't completely identify....sheesh talk about falling stars.

    Good job.

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