Un­con­sciously Cre­ative

Storizen Magazine - - Cover Story - By Tu­lika Mehro­tra

Literary con­sti­pa­tion, a com­mon con­di­tion, po­litely named writer’s block ( WB) af­flicts 100% of the pen wield­ing artist pop­u­la­tion to vary­ing de­grees. Flare ups arise with­out warn­ing and re­main for un­ex­plained pe­ri­ods of time. Psy­cho­log­i­cally, the de­mor­al­iz­ing im­pact of the blank page at the end of the day pun­ishes her­culean ef­fort with ‘the glar­ing white screen of fail­ure’. The suf­fer­ing is some­times wors­ened by the of­ten limp, piti­ful non­sense that serves only to make ev­ery­thing stu­pider. Sen­tences that took hours to cre­ate de­liver only shame and re­sul­tant rapid delet­ing.

In fit­ting with clas­sic cliché, noth­ing is off lim­its for vic­tims in the name of such artis­tic angst. Drink. Al­ter­na­tive ‘medicine.’ Phys­i­cal ex­plo­ration. Gen­eral mad­ness. And fi­nally, rage. Then, of course, the in­er­tia put­ters out to re­signed, am­biva­lent “what­ever” and what could have been will never be known.

Mil­len­nia have passed with fa­mous names sur­viv­ing and speak­ing of the dev­as­tat­ing im­pact and yet sci­ence has not yet dis­cov­ered the one true writerly lax­a­tive elixir. The only known

course of ac­tion to date is aware­ness, pre­ven­tion, and ul­ti­mately, just weird tricks.

Cre­ativ­ity, as it turns out, can­not be forced. I have writ­ten two nov­els, am near the com­ple­tion of my third, and have semi- plot­ted the scope of my fourth. Pro­lific, I am not. The writ­ing, I’ve learned, never gets eas­ier and the learn­ing is eter­nally hum­bling. The foun­da­tion of the craft de­mands hon­esty, courage, and ba­sic hu­man stamina.

In the face of such an up­hill path, au­thors of renown have con­di­tioned them­selves to form a habit, a con­trived pat­tern for a de­sired re­turn that keeps the tap run­ning. The con­di­tion­ing, how­ever bizarre or ran­dom, plays a role in their literary out­put, avert­ing the evil eye of WB. Academy Award win­ning writer, Aaron Sorkin ad­mits to tak­ing six to eight show­ers a day when writ­ing a script be­cause it helps him think most clearly. Ernest Hem­ing­way could only write while stand­ing up. Tru­man Capote re­quired a hor­i­zon­tal re­pose for any pro­duc­tive out­put. He was quoted say­ing, “I can’t think un­less I’m ly­ing down, ei­ther in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cig­a­rette and cof­fee handy. I’ve got to be puff­ing and sip­ping.”

Best sell­ing au­thor of the DAVINCI Code, Dan Brown prefers to be up­side down with in­ver­sion ther­apy to help him re­fresh and

solve plot prob­lems more eas­ily. Hang­ing up­side down is his fool proof method to in­spired prose and con­cen­tra­tion.

Over the years, I’ve tried var­i­ous ap­proaches with mixed suc­cess. While I’ve ac­cepted the in­fi­nite learn­ing curve where mas­tery is just down the way, a lit­tle further, a lit­tle more…. I’ve stum­bled upon a se­cret tech­nique that eases the pain.

When fin­ish­ing my first novel, I fought through the rocky ter­rain of plot­ting the story with nu­mer­ous wrong turns and hor­ri­bly wasted time. My tools in­cluded con­trived co­in­ci­dence, melo­drama, and neat three part struc­tures. The prose was non­sense. The char­ac­ters were wooden. And the plot twists that I forced on my story sent the novel further to hell with ev­ery new chap­ter.

So on one non­spe­cific, nor­mal day, I hap­pened to drink a lot of wa­ter at my desk. I didn’t know how to take my pro­tag­o­nist to the next scene and I also had to go the bath­room. I got up. I walked to the loo. I thought about what to do for lunch. I tried to re­mem­ber if I had wa­tered my plant last night. I ca­su­ally con­sid­ered all the mys­ter­ies of the world and ev­ery mun­dane is­sue to ex­ist, ev­ery­thing ex­cept my book’s plot in the min­utes from my desk to the bath­room. Direc­tion­less, my mind wan­dered free.

And then it hap­pened. The mo­ment I opened the re­stroom door, the an­swer emerged in my psy­che, gift wrapped with a shiny red bow on top. Noth­ing could have been more ob­vi­ous and I wanted to slap my fore­head for be­ing too slow to see it sooner. I ran back to the com­puter, busi­ness un­fin­ished, shocked at the sim­plic­ity of some­thing that had baf­fled me for over an hour.

The next day, it hap­pened again, this time in the shower. The inventor of the bath­room writ­ing boards knew his mar­ket. I nearly killed my­self slip­ping on the wet floor to go find a pen.

When it hap­pened one more time while I was in the midst of a con­ver­sa­tion with a friend about a lo­cal restau­rant’s arugula salad, I thought maybe I should con­sider a pat­tern.

Ac­tiv­i­ties that un­chained my con­scious­ness from any forced di­rec­tion seemed to give me ev­ery­thing I needed. And yet when I begged, pleaded, cried for a sig­nal, the an­ten­nae picked up noth­ing. The pa­thetic dis­tress sig­nals seemed to turn me off so much that I wouldn’t even help my­self.

Over the years, I’ve dis­cov­ered med­i­ta­tion goes a step further to cleanse the clut­ter of an over­worked brain. The open space leaves room for prob­lem solv­ing and an­swers emerge with­out the ter­ri­ble in­ter­nal ne­go­ti­a­tion. While not al­ways per­fect, the next layer in the WB aver­sion process in­cludes the more ob­vi­ous re­quire­ment, time.

The ex­haust­ing path re­quires men­tal clar­ity, how­ever pos­si­ble with tricks or mu­sic, and a will­ing­ness to sit down (or stand up) for hours to phys­i­cally write. The habit, when fi­nally es­tab­lished, is a con­di­tioned space where the un­con­scious re­leases the jail­bird from the dark cor­ners of imag­i­na­tion and al­lows for true cre­ation.

But more about the unique habits…

Susan Son­tag writes first with a felt tip pen on a le­gal notepad be­fore tran­scrib­ing to com­puter. Charles Dick­ens took three hour af­ter­noon walks to open the flood­gates of his writ­ing. Ev­ery writer finds a way to fo­cus and de­clut­ter with stamina, dis­ci­pline, and some­thing ran­dom that just al­ways does the job.

My bath­room trick has worked more times than not. My desk is per­pet­u­ally stocked with bot­tles of wa­ter. I will al­ways be hy­drated when I’m writ­ing, es­pe­cially near­ing a dead­line. Like a tod­dler, cre­ativ­ity will not be told what to do. It will never re­spond to a rough hand and worse will spit on you with in­sult­ing rub­bish if pushed against its will.

I’ve learned in fic­tion, if you want to play God, re­spect the un­con­scious. It’ll do the heavy lift­ing as long as you leave the door wide open.

Tu­lika Mehro­tra is a DC based au­thor with Pen­guin Ran­dom House. Her first two books, Delhi Stopover and Crash­ing B-Town are best sell­ers in In­dia and re­leased glob­ally this year. She is jour­nal­ist and speaker and is presently com­plet­ing her third novel.

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