Wednesday, September 20, 2006

THE APPOGIATURA OF JEFF VANDERMEER

NOTE: The Clarion auction is still ongoing and you can become a fixture in Ambergris if you win the VanderBid. Two days left!

Sometimes it's important to change your environment to get past a problem in fiction, so last night instead of working at home, we drove to Anthony's and while Ann went on to a book club meeting I sat and worked at a table on the balcony outside, looking out over the street below. Crown Royal Reserve with a good cigar got the juices flowing, especially with the new Kasabian blasting in my iPOD (great stuff!).

What was the problem? Figuring out the relationships between a couple of characters. Figuring out the tone of conversation between a man and a woman. Figuring out who the interrogator was in one anonymous scene. And all of it, between the magical hours of 7 and 9 pm, became clear to me. And when I "woke up" so to speak around 9:30, there were 20 pages of scenes, half-scenes, and contextual notes all waiting for me.

Of course I was thinking it through the whole time--I wasn't truly absent--but I'd also put myself in a place where I could relax and be receptive to both my conscious and subconscious mind. Strange bits of connectivity floated into view. Odd but beautiful images materialized in front of me. Situations and details from the European trip that pertained to the story came into view without any of the extraneous context. I could see all the way down the long corridor of the story, with its many adjoining rooms and floors. The structure was as crystalline and insanely gorgeous as any real building.

It was one of those incredibly intense and sublime writing sessions that reminds you why you write: because the act of writing is pleasurable. Because when you come out of one of those writing jags, when you come out of the trance state, you regain briefly the sense of being personally connected to every cell in the body you inhabit and that body is connected to everything around you. In short, you feel like part of some immortal community. Or maybe it's just selfish euphoria, but still...

Later, looking over the notes, I saw that the waitress had come by and asked if I'd care for a mushroom appetizer and even that short exchange had become transformed into dialogue in the story...and it fit perfectly.

JeffV

7 Comments:

At 8:37 AM, Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

Very cool, man. Glad the jones has hit you again.

 
At 4:05 PM, Anonymous jmorrison said...

This actually fascinates me quite a bit. I remember the first time I read Henry Miller referring to his own process as "turning on a faucet" or Bukowski's sly way of attributing his ease of writing to his typewriter.

The idea that the writing can become automatic or "trance-like" as you put it fascinates me because, in practice, it is something which has always evaded me. Details and sentences and paragraphs may form, seemingly from whole cloth, in my mind but inevitably once I sit in front of the machine the flow is broken. I've always pined for the invention that would translate straight from the mind onto the page. I suppose never having learned how to type properly does not help.

In any case I wonder how many writers really do experience this trance? And how often? And how the writing done in this fugue compares to the kneaded and worked-over pieces?

 
At 6:20 PM, Blogger Tessa said...

...and this is why I need a laptop. If only to have a computer to write on that doesn't have contstant internet access.

(Go you, by the way. :)

 
At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I write longhand so as to have the experience be more immediate. Also, I use tricks to deliberately prime my subconscious, and then trust in it so when it comes out I'm trying not to think or be critical of even the stupidest thing. It may be an illusion, but the idea is to have the stuff flow through your mind onto paper with as little interference as possible. It's pretty basic and I think most writers have experienced it.

All that writing I did last night will go through the kneading and working-over process. BUT, in general, for me, the stuff that flows out like that tends to be far superior rough draft material to what I have to slog through to get to.

In my experience, you can get to the same place quality-wise slogging along--there's no alternative when writing a novel, because you're having to write almost every day and you cannot sustain that intensity. (Although on the actual connectivity/detail level, I experience little epiphanies thinking about whatever novel I'm working on throughout any given day, even if the writing itself is a slog.)

And part of it is just the satisfaction of problem-solving. The epiphany of "Oh--that piece goes there" or "oh--that character would say that."

I use "trance state" as a term because on the micro level while experiencing one of these writing bouts, it's very much like a trance. You do literally awaken from it. The other day I was at the computer retyping a rough draft and it wasn't until about 20 minutes after my stepdaughter entered the house and sat down at the kitchen table and started having a conversation with Ann that I realized there was even anyone at the table. That's always what I'm shooting for--entering that state of sustained concentration.

Also, I haven't written any fiction for nine months and I just experienced five weeks of the most amazing travel of my life. Both were clear primers for this experience last night.

Now I'll probably slog along for awhile again.

Speaking of which--I owe people emails, I have European trip accounts to write, other stuff to write, videos of interviews with foreign editors to edit...and right now it's all going by the wayside. I just don't have a choice but to delay this stuff. Otherwise the story's gonna suffer. Sorry. (Posting to this blog every once in awhile isn't quite the same thing in terms of breaking my concentration.)

JeffV

 
At 8:23 AM, Blogger jukkahoo said...

On behalf of Finland (well, part of it anyway), feel free to listen to your muse (or Muse, whichever takes your fancy) and actually do some fiction writing. We can wait for that other stuff, honestly (he said with a frozen smile).

BTW, you're gaining on Starbuck.

 
At 11:28 AM, Blogger ddavelarsen said...

Hey, I've got to know more people who've read both Henry Miller and Bukowski! I've only known one other person who could say that, and he's my son.

Jeff I had a little epiphany reading your description of last night's writing. Making stuff is often very much the same for me. Recently I've been totally rewiring my armor and solving those problems has resulted in any number of similar moments of clarity (which, alas, evaporate rather too quickly). Having to figure out something I've no clue about, working within constraints of materials, budget, the known rigors public places and just making it *look cool* are all things that require deep attention and help from some well of inspiration that isn't always available. And I too benefit from being in a space where I'm not interrupted.

From this and other experiences making other stuff, I have to conclude that your "trance state" must be the rule rather than the exception when people are doing truly creative things. It's a great feeling - not as good as sex but marginally better than beer. Even good beer.

 
At 11:41 AM, Anonymous clare said...

"the waitress had come by and asked if I'd care for a mushroom appetizer"
that sounds incredibly fortuitous considering...!

I think being really tired sometimes helps get into this state - so it is quite good to sneak out to the desk in the middle of the night - or sometimes just writing really quickly - not letting your pen leave the page or your fingers pause over the keyboard.

 

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