In the River
“As writers, it is in the art that we find ourselves.”
So, I’m halfway through writing my sixth book STILL NOT GONE, the sequel to STILL NOT DEAD, but stuff keeps getting in the way. I accidentally (explanation here} started a publishing company last year, the Munn Avenue Press and it has taken off. I’ve been busy helping several other authors get their books published and making those books into bestsellers. That’s all very exciting and fun, but what about my writing?
Writing a 300+ page book is a daunting project. The first draft is only the beginning and captures the plot. With rewriting, editing, and tweaking, I will go through the manuscript 15 to 20 times to bring the story alive. Really! Then I send it out to a handful of trusted, yet brutally honest, beta readers who share the good, the bad, and the ugly. Another rewrite. Finally, it goes to my editor, back to me for another round of changes, and then to a proofreader or two.
All of that takes passion and time, a certain kind of time. Joyce Carol Oates says, “The great enemy of writing is interruption.” That’s because when you are in the flow of writing fiction, you are in a deeper place, you’re “In the River.”
What’s that mean? This was a startling revelation to me when I was writing my first novel, NOT SO DEAD. I’d write for a couple of hours and look back at what I’d written. Wait, where did that character come from? Why did she do that? Why is the villain so evil? Did he really say that? Why did this beloved character have to die?
I could go on with these questions, but it became clear that these characters, ideas, actions, and dialogue came from deep down in my subconscious. If you’re a fan of Carl Jung, as I am, you might say I was tapping into the Collective Unconscious. That deep, dark place I found is where I believe all great creative art comes from.
“They don’t call it stream of consciousness for nothing!”
A related discovery on my journey is that I write best in the morning. This is not true of all writers, but it is true of most. I understood why when I spoke to the famous Walter Mosley. He said, “I write in the morning because it’s closest to my dreams.” Ah! That made perfect sense since our dreams come from the unconscious mind too.
Still, to complete a long work of fiction, it’s not good enough to swim in the River for a couple of hours. You need to stay in the River which means writing every day. If you write every day, more ideas will come to you in the middle of the night, in the morning, and in the shower because you are staying in the River.
Likewise, much of writing is problem-solving. What happens next? How do I end this? How can she be here and there at the same time? When you stay in the River, the solutions come to you as your unconscious works those problems in the background and offers up her answers. The unconscious is a writer’s most magnificent gift.
Yet, once you leave the River, it’s very hard to get back in. You may have lost the flow. You may have forgotten what you wrote. Worst of all, you may have lost the connection to the Source. You may have to go back upstream and start all over again.
Now the River can be a scary place. Your demons live there as well as your friends and River guides. In real life, I’ve dealt with bouts of depression, cancer, loss, and even abuse as a child. Somehow, those experiences came alive in the words and actions of my NOT SO DEAD Series characters. For some writers, exorcising these demons is cathartic, i.e. it can make you feel better. For others like Hemmingway, David Foster Wallace, and a host of others, suicide was their way out. Facing the creatures in your unconscious can be both daunting and liberating at the same time.
If you want to be a writer or an artist, you must take the risk. you must dive in. There is no choice, no excuse. For me, writing this essay puts me back in the River… right now.
Read for FREE some of Charles Levin’s short stories:
Nora Delivers the Package
The Permission Slip
10 Life Lessons I Learned from Playing Poker
Missing the Ghost in the Palace Theater
Moon Landing Memories
P.S. My original fast-paced thriller NOT SO DEAD and the Sam Sunborn Series are also available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com
If you like short reads you can really finish, grab a copy of my short story collections: The Last Appointment: 30 Collected Short Stories