February 22, 2018

Your state of mind while writing is crucial

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, flow in writing, Literary Commentary, Momentum in writing, Tone tagged , , , , at 9:31 am by Rebecca Hein

What’s driving your state of mind while writing? This element of your work process can make or break your short story, novel, or nonfiction narrative. Both War and Peace and Crime and Punishment are excellent illustrations of this phenomenon.

It’s not too hard to guess what Tolstoy was thinking when he wrote War and Peace: “I want to make people think in a new way about history and the nature of power.” His vehicle, an epic historical novel, might have better fulfilled his mission if he’d kept to one genre throughout the story.

However, periodically he jumps out of the plot to deliver an essay on what power really is versus what we think it is, and how historical events prove his point. Thus, we find we’re reading two books in one: a novel about Napoleon’s invasions of Russia, and a string of nonfiction essays.

The novel is okay, though not the best ever written, despite the scope of the story. The essays are fine too, except they belong in a separate book. Possibly they would have more impact if presented in a collection of philosophical essays.

It’s obvious that Tolstoy had to express his convictions, and that the novel, as a literary form, couldn’t contain them. His failure to separate the two genres diluted them both.

Dostoyevsky also had strong convictions. But why would you want to slog through Crime and Punishment to discover the overriding conviction that clearly powered the book? Because the force of that one idea gives the story irresistible forward motion and absolute credibility.

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November 28, 2012

No Artifice, Part Three

Posted in Flow, flow in writing, music and writing tagged , , at 3:14 pm by Rebecca Hein

As noted, simple work frees the brain so it doesn’t interfere with the spontaneity of a good idea. In music we play easy pieces. What’s the equivalent in writing?

How about telling your own story in the first person? Never mind whether or not you think it will interest others. The point is to give yourself a no-effort writing exercise to find out what happens when the words are flowing.

November 14, 2012

No Artifice, Part Two

Posted in flow in writing, music and writing tagged , at 2:42 pm by Rebecca Hein

Our best writing often emerges when we aren’t even trying. Ideas spin out of us with no effort, and our sentences disentangle themselves as they go.

How can we create these ideal conditions? In cello playing I’ve learned that an essential component is to play easy pieces. When I’m floating through a piece that I can play without thinking, my mind relaxes, and with this release of control, I enter that zone where my work travels on its own momentum and therefore goes best.

May 2, 2012

Total Absorption

Posted in Creativity, Flow, flow in writing, freewriting, Peak Experiences, writing techniques tagged , , , , at 2:01 pm by Rebecca Hein

When technique and tools disappear, leaving only our work in full flow, our consciousness is altered and we carry the wonder of that experience for days. The problem is that in wishing for a recurrence, we’ll skew it just by trying for it.

If instead we cultivate a state of attentive waiting, we’ll predispose ourselves to more such moments, yet without forcing. In music, attentive waiting can occur anytime you’re playing, and when you let go of everything except that alert, open state of mind.

In writing, especially freewriting, the same applies. Forget trying to write a story, scene, or essay. Forget not trying to write it. Start writing and see what happens, and don’t be surprised when you find that you’ve forgotten everything but the energy of the moment.

April 11, 2012

Freewriting, Part Five: Don’t Underrate It

Posted in flow in writing, freewriting tagged at 4:16 am by Rebecca Hein

While your freewriting is producing nothing but near-gibberish, causing you to wonder why you’re doing it, consider this: how often do you get perfect flow in a writing session? Perfect flow in freewriting is like a perfect warmup in music.

Before you know it, you’re launched and have been drawn into your sound. Playing a few easy notes or simple pieces, you become absorbed in the sensations of playing, and though these easy notes and pieces will never be heard in performance, they relax you and help you play your best.

Freewriting is the same. Launch it and keep going, forgetting about whether or not it will be readable. Then you’ll find that next time you try to write a story, essay, or poem, it will be much easier.

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