Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Noodling, Or the Fine Line Between Processing and Woolgathering

I'm in one of those (usually) short fallow periods that seem to be a part of my process. What that means is that I need to let my subconscious pick away at some identified problems in the structure of the book going forward.

The way it usually goes is my subconscious spots a big old problem in the plan before I actually get to it in the text and I have conscious "well damn," moment. I then stall out for a while, usually on the order of a week or two while my backbrain picks away. Then, at some point I say, "the hell with it, I'm just going to write through it," and I do so. I suspect that I hit the write through it moment because my subconscious has solved the problem and sends some subtle message to the motivational centers.

Unfortunately, there's a potentially perfectly valid alternate theory: I'm lazy. I hit a difficult spot and don't want to do the work to get through it, so I go off and woolgather until my Midwestern guilt at not working gets bad enough to drive me back to the keyboard where I solve the problem in real time by just writing through it and all the fallow period stuff is so much sophistery to disguise the fact that I don't actually like to do hard work.

I strongly suspect and hope that the first theory is the correct one but I'm aware enough of my ability to self-justify that I will never really know, and that's actually pretty aggravating.



Kimberly Frost said...


I'm with you, buddy. And for what it's worth, it definitely sounds like processing to me. I've occasionally forced myself to write scenes, even when I couldn't see in my head where things were going and knew I needed to. Ultimately, I always ended up having to toss those scenes out.

It's the difference between writing words and writing the right words.

And incidentally, I never feel lazy for staring out the window or at the ceiling, and working on the story in my head because I find that part of the process a lot harder and a lot scarier than actually writing scenes.

These days I try to accept, albeit nervously, that part of the process. So far, whenever I've actively struggled to tell a better story by stopping to ponder the plot, the subconscious has always eventually come through and shown me the way I couldn't see.

So...do I appreciate the subconscious? Well, yes. But do I wish it punched a clock like a Teamster, rather than wandering in occasionally like an eccentric millionaire? Well, yes. Hell yes.

As always though, the hard is what makes it great. ;)

Kelly McCullough said...

Hey Kimber,

Yeah, getting the subconscious to pull in harness a little more smoothly would be very nice. Ah well, I'm not really allowed to complain too much. To quote from Chess, "I'm where I want to be and who I want to be and doing exactly what I always said I would..." Of course, I depart from the song at that point which goes on to say "and yet I feel I haven't won at all," and I feel that I've won a great deal.