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Why What You Think You Will Write Is Never As Good As You Envisioned It Would Be

From a letter to a friend.  I post it because of her statement about the process of writing.  She was disappointed because what got on the page was never close to what she had envisioned.  It is a common complaint of writers, and this is my take on it. 

WHY: 

I slept till almost eleven? But I was also working out and elaborating on a very weird dream about a retrofitted apartment house–actually that old blue apartment house next door to where we used to live.

We returned for some reason and it had been transformed into a gigantic Montessori school. Because you have to have such things completely on the ground floor, it had been retrofitted via a steel frame.  The floors were slanted and old so in my dream they got some kind of ball-bearing levelers on the corners.   This somehow fixed the problem with the fire officials–if only it were so easy. 

The rooms were lovely and old, clearly neglected for decades, with huge old porcelain tubs and weirdly engineered ceramic bathroom fixtures, architecture and furniture that breathed mysterious pasts.  As we climbed higher, each space had the requisite two exits, some down strange old staircases or through small doors.  Each room rolled independently, so you had to get your school-legs, as it were, and there were few children in the beginning as it was not yet finished.  The building was subject to all kinds of forces, apparently; like a tall building, it swayed in the wind–and from time, and from emotion, and from dream-forces that are within me.

But by the time we got to the top floor, it opened onto rooftop rolling green fields, earth having been brought up there, and I located the ancient directress, wizened, stooped, and bright-eyed. When I asked her about Montessori equipment, which I had not seen, her eyes gleamed and she said, oh, we have it somewhere, and found an old paper bag in one of the many administration rooms, which were kind of like the rooms of very old business in which I did temporary secretarial work the summer we moved here, people working on various arcane organizational tasks. When she opened it, it held a bunch of ribbons or something. Wrong bag, she said, it’s here somewhere. In the meantime I met people like the old black cook we had at the Barret Day Care Center in Charlottesville, wielding a huge spoon, wearing an apron, with an outrageous temper, preparing meals and meals and meals. Children began to inhabit the place, and there were rooms of cots (pleasant, to my dreaming mind; a bit like a summer house where cousins might sleep, or laugh and gossip all night; it was all very pleasant, a good place to stay).  The school-world had now become vast; room opened onto room opened onto room.  Many were antique, Victorian, but some were modern, sleek, glass and steel.  

The director wanted my contact information.  I kept getting scraps of paper from my purse and trying to write my name and address, but it was as hard as if I were a child and I was quite dissatisfied with the quality of my print, how it got big and small, how it wavered and crowded in amongst receipt totals. Finally I told her I would send her the information.   At least I remember that I was trying to write my name and address; I used to dream entire books but could not remember a thing when I woke up, or, in the dream, when I went back to look, the pages were blank.  This is because the subconscious is not a world of words, but a world of images, and each image is rich with emotional content which makes sense within that system. but when you try to write down a dream, or a work of fiction, because they are the same, they never, never, never are what you envisioned. This is not only your problem, but the problem of all writers. What gets on the page is always disappointing, but then, one must set to work with what is there and enrich it.

So don’t despair about your own work not being what you intended. Well, all writers despair, but it is really a very common reaction. 

On our descent through the vast school, there were many, many branching routes down, through fancy dining rooms where children ate, an entire child-sized world with low doors, slides, rooms of various types of kinetic enchantments. The world was finally complete and I could wake up, very, very late.

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October 11, 2009   No Comments