All my writing life I’ve been aware of two halves of the writing self.
First, there’s the Creator who spools out material with nonchalant bliss. On a bus! At 3 am! In a café with a friend doing the same across a wobbly, latte-stained table. This is the writing self I’ve always loved best. The one who pencils eight-inch arrows across a first draft and scrawls an additional paragraph in the margin, tailspinning the plot and setting it alight. Or can’t find the right word, so contentedly scribbles, ‘Furry, leg at each corner, kneads your belly in front of Relocation, Relocation – whattheycalledagain? – never mind. Protag has one that gets lost, and, whilst trying to find it, she stumbles upon a secret community living in a derelict house on the island. Oh yeah: cat!’
Then there’s the Editor, who I mulishly admit to feeling more at home with. She’s a scrawny, bespectacled beast, whose eyes gleam as she lifts her red pen (which she probably wears on a chain round her neck, prissy mare.) ‘I don’t think we really meant to say, ‘At home with?’ did we dear? With whom I feel at home is correct but I’ll allow the vernacular if you argue well for it.’ To be fair, she’s also the one who culls the Creator’s glutted draft with the zeal of Gillian MacKeith tossing pork scratchings from an obese family’s larder.
So, I’m used to playing splurge then purge. Or Ed assembling an impeccable skeleton plot then Creator wrapping it with flesh, hair, eyes and body odour. I’m happy to give one top role, then the other, confident that between them they’ll eventually conjure goods that are, for the most part, presentable. Half way what I was after.
But in all these years I’d never strayed upon a writing practise that melds the two. Same page, same time. That’s as impossible as, I dunno, asking Clegg and Cameron to run a country together and make a fair fist of it. Not happening. But this union is the basis of a book I recently read, on the advice of a fellow (highly productive and successful) writer. The book is called Writing the Mind Alive and the concept of running Editor and Creator together has the off-putting name: proprioceptive writing. When I mentioned it to my students, they knew all about proprioception. One, a teacher turned masseuse, said it means using right and left sides of the brain simultaneously, typically by using right and left hands together. As in massage or playing the piano.
Most writers are acquainted with morning pages or automatic writing - some process where you write without stopping to think. In proprioceptive writing you write freely but pause and ask questions of the creator: What did you mean by that? This way, the editor gets her fix of intervention but the creator is allowed continuous flow. Both are gainfully employed, their monkey egos simultaneously satisfied. The author of Writing The Mind Alive has simple rules. You play Bach. (Bit strict on that. It must be Bach because his music simulates our pulse rate in relaxed, receptive mode.) You light a candle – to remind you this is a ritual that works best done daily. You write for half an hour, no more. You continue to ask the question: What did I mean by x?
Ok, it’s a little whacky, but leave the room please ladies and gentlemen if you have no truck with whacko ideas from time to time. I’m a proprioceptive novice (hah – those are words I’d not even have understood this time last year) but I intend to light that candle, play that funky harpsichord and write and ask, write and ask, until Creator and Editor are coiled together in blissful, fruitful union.
More on this in my next Strictly blog.
Writing The Mind Alive by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon