Busting through Barriers To Story

I’ve been so busy taking care of marketing demands for Fling! and finishing up my semester of teaching that I haven’t had time to write new material, fiction or otherwise. Prose, non-fiction, is easy for me to produce. I can spin out words and sentences that end up making sense, as I’m doing here.

breaking through copyBut writing fiction? It’s like digging a ditch or chipping away at the concrete of my brain to find a way back into a story. That’s why I usually have several projects in motion. I move back and forth between them. When I run into a dead end with one, I can enter a vein in another, carried along until something stops me again.

Still, it’s difficult to enter the almost trance-like state that enables me to generate new material and activate my imagination. There’s always a barrier I have to break through first before the narrative takes on its own energy, carrying me along with it. I’m assuming most writers experience this kind of resistance at some point. At its extreme, the resistance becomes dreaded writer’s block and takes us over.

Fortunately, it’s such a frequent visitor that I’m rarely overwhelmed when it happens. The secret is to not give the obstacle it tries to construct any power. I keep writing no matter what, even if it turns out to be gobbledygook at first. Freewriting is one strategy I use to soar past this opposition and find my way back into story. Once I do, I’m good until the next time this obstruction appears.

Internal vs External Memories

As a writer, I continue to make discoveries about process. Recently I had a dream where I started writing the words “I am four and …..” The rest I can’t recall, but apparently the language was supposed to take me into an important memory. The words may have come from a prompt someone gave me in the dream, but I forget who, and I now forget most of the prompt, though I tried to rehearse it in my sleep

The next morning, I wrote the following:

I am four, and I’m sitting by the window watching birds and wishing I were a bird—that I could fly. And then I see the snow coming down and there aren’t any birds any longer because the snow buries them and everything looks white and the white blanks out the world and I’m afraid because it appears that the white will stay forever.

And then finally spring comes or a Chinook and the snow melts and I see brown and maybe some gold and black earth but it takes a long time before green appears again and at four I don’t know what spring means and I don’t know that there’ll ever be anything but snow because at four I don’t have much of a past or a future yet. I just have the moment and how long each moment seems to be so that everything gets stretched and time goes farther than the prairies and they go on as far as the eye can see.

I hide inside myself waiting for things to change but not knowing they will change. Just living in hope and hope is such an intangible at four it almost doesn’t exist because hope means there is a future and I don’t think about futures and again I wonder if I’ll get out from under the white.

I am four and the light changes on the distant Rockies. It’s summer and now I can see clouds and they’re white but not like the snow. They’re friendlier and I don’t mind their kind of white because it comes and goes and changes shape and will give me a glimpse and sometimes more of blue. I feel I can lose myself in all that blue. It will wrap around me not like the white that blinds and buries me. The blue picks me up and is like a comforting blanket and I can see many things in the clouds like painting on the blue sky. I don’t want it to stop but I wanted the white snow to stop because it was too cold and it felt like I’d never get warm again.

Following the dream’s instructions and writing “I am four” and letting it take me wherever gave me new insight into how different an internal memory is from an external one. Most of the “memories” I write from are based on external events, whether real or imagined. But they usually don’t capture my internal state of mind, which is what really interests. I’ve lived the other and can remember those experiences, but the internal dimension is much more intangible. It’s difficult for most of us—all of us—to remember exactly what we were thinking/feeling during an earlier time.

What I just wrote about snow and white may be something I wasn’t fully conscious of feeling at four. But following my dream’s suggestion by writing “I am four” and letting it take me to another level in myself gave me insight into how different an internal memory is from an external one.

Most of the “memories” I write from are based on external events, whether real or partially imagined. But they often don’t capture my internal state of mind, which is what really interests me. I’ve lived the outer experience and can remember it, but the internal aspect is much more intangible. In the freewrite, I’m digging under the surface and discovering something I had forgotten feeling at four, or that I buried, because it would have caused too much anxiety.