WRITINGS FROM WONDERBOOK: CH 1 PART 1
I love planning not one, but TWO blog series that I am unbelievably excited about, only to have Covid charge into my house and make my husband, bebe, and I all very sick CONVENIENTLY (sarcasm here) on the same week my manuscript needed to be
revised, edited, and sent for formatting.
Seriously, it was so funny and stressful and I just hope to all the writer gods that somehow my brain was functioning properly enough to know what the hell I was doing.
I am now, thankfully, feeling mostly back in working order and I’d like to share with you a bit about chapter 1 from Wonderbook by James Vandermeer titled Inspiration and the Creative Life.
James packs a punch in this first chapter by diving headfirst into what encompasses the imagination. The information in this chapter is designed to encourage a healthy, productive creative life, which is exactly what all creatives need.
The Importance of Imaginative Play is the first section of this chapter, and I’ll TRY to condense how f*cking earth shattering some of his words were for me (I make no promises).
I can’t tell you how many times I feel my imagination running completely wild, with full conversations and stunning dialogue and description being effortlessly transcribed in my mind, only to disappear as soon as I open my laptop.
When I read this bit:
“When unburdened by the need to put words on a page, the imagination often appears as a form of love and sharing: playful, generous, and transformative. The best fiction is often driven by this invisible engine, which hums and purrs and sighs.”
That first sentence “When unburdened by the need to put words on a page” really struck a chord with me, and I realize now that my ritual for showing up to my laptop is usually, catastrophically, often met with fear. It’s not until I open my laptop or notepad on my phone that I start to question the prose flowing in my mind. Suddenly, the background noise playing in my subconscious questions everything I, just a moment ago, believed to be beautiful and worthy of committing to the page.
In the times I have managed to get a good chunk of those thoughts written down, I admit I’m terrified to read them later—to confront myself with the terrible writer that I actually am (or, so says my internal arch nemesis).
It’s in these moments that I stop writing and decide to read instead, hoping someone else’s words will reinvigorate and better influence my imagination. But, this backfires and discourages me further as I often find that my natural writer voice (the one I foolishly allow to show up without the chaperoning voice of an already well-established author) doesn’t sound like the one I’m reading, and I AGAIN hear that background idiotic noise telling me mine is wrong because it's not like THIS one.
And then, James says another sweet nothing I desperately needed to hear:
“It’s this flicker, or flutter, at the heart of good stories that animates them, and this movement—ever different, ever unpredictable—that makes each story unique. The more we allow it into our lives, the better, and the less we treat it just as a pack of lies, the more we’re enriched…sometimes you’ll find you need to break free of other people’s imaginations to allow your own uniqueness to shine through.”
Now, I’ll wait while you go read that again.
I’m not kidding.
My imagination might be the thing I’m most proud of, and somehow I allow it to be the thing I convince myself I’m most ashamed of. I feel so enraged when I can’t pinpoint someone else in my work, and yet, I’m not supposed to. And, deep down, I don’t really want to.
Side quest (tangent): I grew up in Utah in a VERY Mormon community. I parted ways with the religion, and while I have minimal animosity towards it and its members, I realize now how much it f*cked with the confidence I have in my imagination.
While discussing a bit of history around the imagination + intellect (just buy the book, I really cannot discuss every sentence even though I desperately want to) another bit jumped out at me and immediately brought back a flood of emotions I had growing up:
“…sometimes we look across the room at the looming shadow of our imagination curling back on us, and we realize we cannot control the at times uncomfortable things it can bring us. (The world is filled with people who have too much imagination solely because the people around them have too little.)”
Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, I’m not saying Mormons or any other strict religious group “lacks imagination”. HOWEVER… while growing up in that community, I constantly felt that my imagination was the unwanted enigma. Now that I’m older, I know why. If I wasn’t allowed to consider endless possibilities for myself as a person in a culture of very strict limitations, how was I ever to be confident in the vast expanse of my own imagination? How was I supposed to commit to these wild characters and worlds and magic systems when I wasn’t even allowed to wear a tank top?! It felt like a betrayal, that who I was in private was so different than who I had to be on the outside.
The side quest topic of religion is something that has played a huge role in MY life regarding imagination, but something I think drastically terrorizes all writers are the “rules” shoved down our throats that force us to question ourselves AND other writers.
The look on a sad newbie writer when they haven’t read one of thousands of beat sheet, scene, plot, outline, or any other “rule” book is one that should, if you’re human, nearly bring you to tears. It’s pitiful, and yet we (myself included, it’s torture when beta reading) do it not just to ourselves but also to each other!
Now, pay attention:
“Inherent in this idea of “play” being immature and frivolous is the idea that, just like business processes, all creative processes should be efficient, timely, linear, organized, and easily summarized…In the worst creative writing books, this method is expressed in seven-point plot outlines and other easy shortcuts rather than exercises to help encourage the organic development of your own approach.”
K I said pay attention but really pay attention:
“This kind of codification sometimes reflects a fear of the uncertainty of the imagination and the need to have a set of rules in place through which to understand the universe…The most important thing is allowing the subconscious mind to engage in the kind of play that leads to making the connections necessary to create narrative.”
It’s genius, validating, and also soul crushing. I can’t tell you how many workshops and conferences I’ve attended with published authors, their agents and editors, all from big publishers “in the know” who constantly reinstate the idea of the same, boring, formulaic structure. Sure, I see the merits of it, especially for authors who want to make money by catering to the hive mind that bustles around with the same tastes and need for spoon feeding.
But, this gives me more courage to pursue my stories the way I feel they need to be told AND THEN go from there, rather than questioning how every sentence fits onto a perfect beat sheet.
There is courage in writing a discovery draft free of the unnecessary banter that makes us question the ideas in our head—our art, and our desire to share it with the world the way we want to present it.
I’m going to try focusing on that with my current WIP (Cosmic horror family therapy, anyone? Stay tuned..) and just see, as a little gift to myself and my story, if I’m more satisfied with the first draft.
I’ve covered a surprisingly small bit of chapter 1 (silly me, I thought I’d do one blog post per chapter) SO, before this gets out of control, I’m going to call it a day.
But, I’ll end with this gorgeous and very inspirational tidbit: