Where Art Comes From When You Don’t Know Where It Comes From

fear needles usSometimes art is ground out one step at a time. I’ve done that, and even produced things I’m proud of that way.

Sometimes, art spurts out like mustard from the sun-stricken picnic table. When this happens to me, it always produces something I love.

Once we have the basic skills, writing is a combination of persistence and getting out of your own way. More precisely, getting your conscious, the prefrontal cortex which usually drives the bus; er, your brain, out of the way of your unconscious, including the limbic system where your emotions live, the amygdala where your fears live, and other scary medical terms where other important truths hide out.

To be sure, it is the job of our conscious mind to navigate, to step in when unconsciousness won’t do.

For a writer, that stage is editing, not writing.

Edit with your head.

Write with your gut.

Your unconscious manages your heartbeat, digestion, breathing, and a myriad other functions you could never control if you wanted to. It can solve problems as you sleep. It can fix physical training into muscle memory, so activities practiced just before retiring at night are improved when you awaken in the morning.

It can also make you sabotage your best efforts, take over your speech, behavior, attitude, when it’s not on board with what your conscious thinks should be happening.

Your unconscious is where the truth, your truth about any particular thing, lives.

Your conscious works very hard to protect you from that truth, as often as not. (More on that tomorrow, though I warn you it will involve a disturbing exercise.)

Hemingway said that writing is easy: just sit down at your typewriter and bleed. Nearly every great writer has made a similar comment. Great writing is done with the filters off. It’s served straight, no chaser; undiluted, unprocessed, unprepared.

When writing affects you viscerally as a reader, you know it was written viscerally.

Viscera: your guts. Literally. Not your head, but the churning mass where you feel the darkest dread and deepest fears.

When brilliant art pours from you; no, through you, that’s where it’s coming from: the dark drain of truth in your unconscious.

If you can get out of the way long enough, often enough, you can do some good.

3 thoughts on “Where Art Comes From When You Don’t Know Where It Comes From

  1. That’s interesting! When I do write with no filter, I always say I just write what I see in my head…

    So if this comes from my guts, I should say I’m writing what I see… in my guts?

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