Saturday, March 3rd. The 11th day of Lent.

There are two common paths to writing for me. One is to open a hatch in my basement and reach into the soupy liquid of my unconscious mind. I move my hand back and forth until I find something with enough solidity for me to grab. I drag it up and look at it. Then I tie it to a pole and dip it back in, sweeping it back and forth to see what sticks to it.

Eventually I end up with a central idea and some ancillary thoughts clustered around it. The thoughts themselves are usually familiar to me, though occasionally they are complete surprises. I am surprised more when I write my Foy Davis stories because I make such a conscious effort not to control those narratives. But I usually at least vaguely recognize what I pull up from below. I might recall when a thought first occured to me or remember thinking about it and puzzling over it in the past.

The big mystery is why this idea solidified in my hand and not some other.

The other way I write is to deal with a conscious thought or an idea that occurs to me. I carry notebooks with me, though any scrap of paper will do in a pinch. Some thought will come to me and I immediately know there is potential in it. I write down the thought and file it away. I have hundreds of these notes filling several notebooks. Most of them will never solidify into anything I will write. I think these notebooks are a slightly higher level of my unconscious mind, something just below the surface. Sometimes I will flip through the notebooks, looking for something that interests me. If something I find there becomes exciting to me, the steps are then similar to the process I described above. Tie it to a pole, dip it into my unconscious, and see what sticks to it.

Everything beyond that is just polishing and editing. That’s the work of writing. The painful part. The obsessive part. I read my writing out loud to myself until I can go all the way through it and not hear anything that sounds wrong.

The hard part about these Lenten writings is that they come every day, so there isn’t time for my usual processes. I think perhaps there are some lessons I will find by having to write this way. I feel vulnerable. I can’t abandon something if I decide it’s not good enough. There is no time. No time for fact checking. No time to read it aloud to Jeanene. No time to consider my reputation or what this writing may say about me.

I think I’m beginning to see why Milton thinks this kind of lenten writing discipline is good for a writer’s soul.

Gordon Atkinson

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