20. “Serious work commences in the unconscious mind….therefore…. “You must learn the peculiar needs of your brain” (221) (Reynolds Price’s ‘Letter to a Young Writer’)
This piece of advice struck me when I read it and still does. Likely for the strangeness of the phrase “peculiar needs of your brain” but also because of some kind of semi-contradiction written in the sentence here.
The author starts with the idea that serious work starts in the unconscious, and then goes on to sort of encourage you to find out what makes your brain work. What gets you into flow, into your productive state. But can you do this with your unconscious? And if you are consciously working yourself into that place, are you still participating in the unconscious through a conscious conduit? It’s possible, sure, but the mixing here of states seems difficult.
I could spend more time here talking about those various states, but that’s not what this blogpost is about nor what’s important for this project on writing advice.
The point here is to learn about yourself and your process. To set yourself up for success; and perhaps we’re talking here about the conscious (easier) and the unconscious (harder), but both requiring the subjective preparation that would necessitate one learning the “peculiar needs of your brain.”
So, in taking this, I’ve begun to learn this about myself. Here’s a few things I learned: I write better after walks. These help clear my brain (and I’m not alone in this—many other authors have said the same). I write okay in coffee shops and okay at home, but the best seem to come with some kind of tandem day between these. I’ll often leave notes for myself to come back to once I’ve changed venues. Something about mixing that up helps me solve problems.
Other things? Food and hunger is a big propeller or roadblock. I can write hunger, but not super hungry. I don’t write very well when I’m full either; but I do enjoy reading at that time (and during meals).
During those walks I mentioned above, I find myself thinking about dialogue (and actually saying it out loud to myself). I think of plot more when I’m sitting down and journaling on paper.
And dreams? The unconscious. Sure, I’ve dreamt about my book and my characters, but it hasn’t help me much. The unconscious benefits I think to my writing right now are the relative calm I exist in (I don’t write well under stress or deadline, I think?) and the confidence I have that this is what I want to be doing with my life right now. Things that move me (emotionally) are met with an internal response that I am participating in the poignant conversations of humanity through writing my novel. And that’s good. I think that unlocks a great deal.
Otherwise, I am still on the search. Especially now that I’ve gotten to the editing phase, the questions are a bit changed. How do I prepare the peculiar needs of my brain for this kind of work? Less creative in some ways, but highly tactical and concentrative.