Friday, February 05, 2010

Friday Forays in Fiction: Working With (or Against) Your Strengths

I don't want my thoughts to die with me. I want to have done something.
~~Temple Grandin

My frustrating experience with 'writer's block' earlier this week flummoxed me. I don't often have the problem of not being able to find ideas or get words onto the paper or screen. My problems are with turning what I start into a finished piece. I figured out by Tuesday evening though that I had set myself up to fail by putting too many restrictions on what would count as 'showing up for my stories' which is what I set out to do after what seemed like such a profound insight last week that prompted my post about 'showing up'.

Remember, I'd surfed onto a talk show onnline just in time to hear the hostess advise a caller asking for advice about a book she wanted to write to shut up and show up--to stop talking about the book and show up in front of a page or screen and write because books don't get written by talking about them or thinking about them, they get written by putting words on the page or screen.


Yes, I need to plant myself in front of page or screen more often for the purpose working on my stories. As close to daily as possible is the ideal. But that is where the definition of 'show up' should have ended. Instead, as usual, I had to add a host of extra rules: it had to be stories from my FOS story world; and only stories already in progress preferably Faye's or Crystal's stories; and I couldn't just write about them but it had to be narrative and dialog; and I needed to curtail my tendency to let my thoughts go off on tangents or daydreams because books don't get written by dreaming about them any more than talking about them right?


I had failed to remember how Robert Owen Butler begged to differ in his lectures that became the book: From Where You Dream. I guess it's time to read that one again.

I had also failed to take into account what I know about my own thinking processes. I had in essence strangled myself into silence. For I know that my stories always come from an intense, multi-sensory, vivid freeze-frame image or 3D movie-like images. A better analogy might be the holodecks of Star Trek. Daydreaming is the key to accessing the place where the stories live.

And I know that whenever there has been a long break in the writing routine--anything over five days is long--it takes extra time and patience to gain reentry into the dream.

So I gave myself permission to back off for a day or two to refocus my intent. Besides I needed to take advantage of being home alone for a couple days to do some chores I can't do when my in-laws are home. While waiting for loads of laundry, I cut myself loose on the web, wandering from here to there as the links compelled with little plan or motive other than curiosity. Along the way I ran across several mentions of Asperger's syndrome and was reminded that I have a character in one of my WIP who is Asperger or some similar high-functioning autistic and I was still collecting research resources. So I followed some links.

Then this evening I caught a trailer on TV for the HBO biopic of Temple Grandin airing tomorrow evening. I then googled Temple Grandin and did a search of our library, ordered several of her books. And soon I'd found her web site on which I found these articles by her (the first is an excerpt of her book Thinking in Pictures):

Chapter 1: Autism and Visual Thought

My Mind is a Web Browser: How People with Autism Think

Visual Thinking and Design

How does visual thinking work in the mind of a person with autism? A personal account.

Transition to Employment and Independent Living for Individuals with Autism and Aspergers

I read the first two entire and found myself identifying with a lot of what she describes about her visual thinking. I don't have the precision of retrieval or the emotional detachment she does nor do I have as much difficulty with language--after all I can at time write hypergraphically but that doesn't necessarily mean productive or meaningful. In fact I would add that visual thinking isn't a precise description of what happens to me--its multi-sensory with visual being dominant. Often it feels like I've been abducted out of the here and now into another realm. One word, question, image, odor, sound or tactile event can cause a cascade of associated memories including previous encounters with said sensory input whether in reality, dreams, reading, TV or what have you.

I also recognized my own mind in web browser behavior the very first time I encountered them. But my internal 'web browser' is less cooperative than Google or Yahoo. It is more like what Grandin describes in this paragraph from My Mind is a Web Browser:

I do have the ability to control the rate at which pictures come onto the "computer screen" in my imagination. Some people with autism are not able to do this. One person with autism told me that images explode into a web of a pictures that are interrelated. The decision-making process can become "locked up" and over-loaded with pictures coming in all at once.
This often happens to me. But add other senses to the mix plus intense emotion and empathy with any thinking/feeling entity involved in the memories/imagination/images. I believe this has always been the source of my stories but it is also the reason why translating them from my mind onto screen or page is so challenging.

I also tend to be easily distracted and led down a multitude of side roads of thought with associations on associations on associations. And not in linear fashion but in a grid or web. Or more like:

Only picture that grid of triangles reaching from the edges to the center so that in the end every point on or in the Geode of images/memories is connected to every other. Any one image can be responsible for triggering a multitude of images and mini movies equally loaded with emotions from reading, TV, film, web browsing, --dozens of historical eras, dozens of cultures, dozens of disciplines--only the names and costumes change with the most recent images/movies from that day's news programs. I do use logic but it isn't easy to translate from the images to words. I see a flowchart of images in my mind to go with the if/then/else but it's all of a piece, whole and just there not step-by-step and of course the emotions are attached to each one but the words usually used to talk about such things are seldom easily retrievable: dates, names, places, cultures, scientific theory/evidence and so forth. And of course images and memories of my entire history including sleep dreams and day dreams are mixed in My conclusions depend on the whole interconnected web and are arrived at by a sudden comprehension--a aha moment--I can see so clearly how it is so but it would take a novel to explain it.

Or in the case of my FOS story world ten or twelve or sixteen.

So now I have a clearer understanding of why my attempt to dedicate myself to showing up for my stories failed so miserably this week. I was working exactly against the way my mind works and thus negating my unique strengths. Thus I must find a way of showing up that takes full advantage of my strengths and full acknowledgment of my weaknesses.

Funny how I've stumbled onto a major insight related to my fiction writing twice in a single week. Both times by means of the web. Both times while doing something seemingly unrelated and fairly aimless. Last week's insight re showing up came too late for the Friday post else I would have used it to re-institute the Friday Forays in Fiction posts again. I took an unintentional hiatus around the time my laptop died in December.

0 tell me a story:

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