At the Saturday meeting of the Manchester Chapter of the Connecticut Poetry Society I tried to explain some of the mysteries of the creative writing process. I spoke of the internal wizard whose help we seek and urged that he become a consciously summoned aid de camps. I have several such internal helpers. I ask them to help me solve challenges when I am stumped, blocked in the process of writing, usually a specific piece. I then send them into the recesses of my self and wait for them to return with whatever gems or detritus they want to bring back. These surrogates return with the most God-awful stuff and, if I am willing to work with it, it turns into gems I couldn’t get on my own.
There is another part to this process and for its name I turn go Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. He uses the term “motor program”. Although the term has different connotations for different disciplines I take it to mean the physical action components of an activity; relate it simply to muscle memory. That said, I think of creative writing as set up by a certain series of physical cues that can be repeated. Simply enough, I have written very productively over consecutive days on which I awoke at 6AM, brushed my teeth, made tea, set up the coffee-maker for my wife, sat in a chair by the living room window, took my pen from a chair-side drawer and began thinking. Every step the same every day. The series became my cue to write. It worked.
To bring the two together; what I wrote in the morning would often become something wanting further work. (A lot was dreck. Prolific writing yields only so much that is worth working on—writing more means having more good stuff and more bad stuff.) As I revised, I would be stumped by the challenges, the poems whose argument I could not hear, whose direction I was unable to discern; I would call on the internal wizards, the spirits from the other side of the veil of consciousness to help me. I would ask them what they could suggest, bring to the poems—and I asked them to make certain it was new and fresh. Then I’d let them go do their work.
Later, perhaps minutes, often hours or days, I would close my eyes, visualize the aids and ask them what they brought. This is an imaginative process and they, permitted free rein, would bring back surprising stuff. My obligation was to thank them and say to myself, “What the hell do I do with this stuff?” Then I had to do it.
Even when I doubted them, I was invariably helped by these guides. As Gladwell points out in his book, there is a whole lot going on in our heads that we not only don’t know but can’t know. The process works because it works. There is no explaining and we, as poets must understand and permit ourselves to do and write things that work without understanding.
So long for now.