Writing as a Waking Dream #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

How many here have struggled to “return to their story”? You sit at your table, pen in hand or fingers on the keyboard, but you’re not “ready” to write yet. You don’t “feel” the characters, or their world.

So you review what you’ve written; you do some random low pressure writing exercise, or maybe you just start “babbling” into your medium, and slowly, you feel yourself “returning to that world”. You can “feel” the characters, and “see” their world. Then something snaps you back. Someone has opened the door, walked into the room, and asked you a question, and just like that you’re “awake”. And part of you realizes there’s no quick route back to that “other place”.

This is often how I feel when I set out to write, particularly fiction. And for that reason, I think there’s a way that we can almost compare writing (particularly story writing) to a type of dream state. Or, if you prefer, a hypnotic state, or any form of role playing/LARP. In each case our minds are carefully focused on a world other than the one we physically occupy.

And just like when we are asleep, it’s easy for a loud noise or determined “interruption” to “snap us back”, an experience that is jarring, and one that makes it quite difficult to “fall back to sleep”.

I think this says a lot about why I’m drawn to writing late at night, when the world in general tends to “fall asleep,” and leave me with a quiet that I can use to return to “my worlds,” and continue my stories. And I think it explains why I often feel so frustrated when someone repeatedly interrupts me, each time a brief question, then they go, leaving me alone for 10 or even 20 minutes, just long enough to “start to drift off”, and then they’re back.

What do others think?
Do you find that you need a little time to “drift” back into that special state of mind, where “this world” feels less real, and your own world comes to the forefront?
Do you feel a jarring sense of “interruption” when a loud noise, or insistent question, jerks you back?
Do you ever feel disorientated when you first “come back”, and someone repeats their question, but you’re still not ready to understand what they’re saying, or what it means?

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


29 thoughts on “Writing as a Waking Dream #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. You just described exactly how I write! I need to “get into character,” which means immersing myself in my book world, surrounding myself with my cast of characters, experiencing life through their senses, and feeling their emotions as if they were my own. And no, it is NOT an easy thing to do with other people around, especially kids.

    Constant interruptions and distractions when I’m writing tend to make me very cranky. 🙂 Unfortunately, I have had to learn how to get into my world in spite of them. I used to try to hold off writing until I could have hours of uninterrupted time to myself. The problem was, that time never came, and I ended up just not writing at all, which made me even more cranky, and even depressed after a while. I’ve realized that for me, writing is not just a fun hobby, it’s a deep need–kind of like eating, and breathing. I am now far more adept at the art of tuning things out. Using a good set of earplugs and putting on my “Go away, I’m writing” face every once in a while doesn’t hurt, either!

    There are days when the distractions are just too much, though, or I just can’t seem to get in the right frame of mind for whatever reason . To keep my momentum going I switch gears to editing what I’ve already written, or brainstorming for things yet to come. I’ve even been known to turn on Minecraft and build parts of my world that I’m having trouble visualizing. It’s actually quite therapeutic, sometimes even setting off sparks that get the writing going again.

    Thanks for this interesting post–it’s good to know that there are other writers who experience their worlds and craft the same way I do.

    • I can definitely relate to the “hunger” to write. It “soothes” something within me.
      I love foam earplugs. Combined with headphones and music, one can really shut out the world.
      Or, in some cases, I’ll do a triple layer (foam earplugs-music headphones-big headphones normally reserved for construction and firearms).
      And I agree, sometimes the right answer is to step away from the physical act of writing, but do something that leaves the mind free to “continue”. I’ll often go for a walk, or run, or just walk around a room, essentially talking to/as the different characters, trying to walk myself through the series of events that led to this particular “state” for them.

      Thank you again. I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and for the generous reblogging.

  2. As you, I also write late at night or early in the morning when interruptions are few. It easier to stay inside the characters, the stories and the worlds I create when I can put real life on the back burner.

    • Mmm. And often there are less temptations actively going on in the “real world”. I love summer, but it’s like one long parade of “Shiny!”. I heard tell of some who go to places like Alaska, in winter, even though they are not fans of winter, as a way of isolating and forcing themselves to “sit and write”. Of course, I prefer to “sprint regularly” rather than “marathon”.

  3. I just went through 3 months of I’m-not-ready-to-go-back-to-the-story-yet. I’m back in it now, and what I can say, is that I just didn’t feel ready. I didn’t have the confidence. I did a lot of reading, because I didn’t feel I was quite up to snuff with a particular area of the craft, and then I just felt like I had read enough, learned enough one day, and now I’m on an editing binge in preparation for camp nanowrimo next month. That’s helpful, too: signing up for something like camp nanowrimo or nanowrimo, because it’s that big date that’s looming, and it’s kind of exciting, and it gets me motivated.

    • Situations like that can be so tricky. Sometimes it’s the anxiety, and sometimes it’s that intuitive part of us that “knows something”, but ironically can’t quite put it into words.
      One “deal” I’ll make is “okay. I’m not up to writing ‘that’, but how about ‘this’?”
      There are definitely some stories that I don’t yet feel ready to write, but as long as I’m continuing to write in general, I figure I’ll get there.
      I admire you for being able to handle deadlines. I find that deadlines become a kind of “looming distraction” for me. My writing process requires a hefty dose of “It will take as long as it takes, and that’s alright.”
      But we all walk our own path, and it is interesting to read/hear what works for others.
      I’m happy to hear that you’re back on your project, and looking forward to nanowrimo.

  4. I definitely need certain conditions to lose myself in my writing: Silence, low stress, no threat of interruptions (Interruptions are the worst, and if they’re too frequent I have to give up or find somewhere else to write away from those who might disturb me!) It takes me at least 15 minutes to re-familiarise myself with my character’s world and settle into it, and if I don’t have enough time to ease myself out of that world when I’m done writing I tend to get a little cranky!

    • Mmm. But at the same time isn’t there something wonderful when you “do” get back to that place?
      And while I would never wish a “difficult session” on anyone, there’s some secret part of me that hopes that “those times” in turn gradually teach and train us in how to more easily and effectively “get there”.

  5. I understand what you’re saying here. Sometimes when I get back to the page it’s hard to get into the story again, but once I do it’s just like that–I’m back in the dream! Interruptions can certainly pull you out of it so finding a time where you won’t be “woken up” is important. Great post!

    • Thank you. One thing that I love reading about (among many) is how each writer “gets into that” and “what a writing session looks like, for them.”
      One writer (I can’t recall who) cited that they always liked to end their writing session with an incomplete phrase, something that rested like a ball on the edge of a table or counter. You just knew it was going to keep rolling and fall, but not yet. That was their technique for “slipping” back into it the next time.

    • Agreed. Beginnings have their merits, endings are hard, but it’s the middle that I truly love. That could be why I’m fond of the revision process as well, a more extensive time to spend “in that world” with the characters.

  6. If I’m not able to work on my book every day and for the majority of each day, then I do need a little boost to get back in to the story, and usually that is accomplished by reading back over what I wrote. It truly helps.

    • Sometimes I do that too, but sometimes reading over prompts me to start editing. One solution has been to only allow myself to read over what I wrote “last session”, or time myself, so I don’t have time to do more than a very quick “gliding” read through (like a bird above the canopy).
      Another technique I like is to mentally try and walk myself through the major experiences and emotions that the POV character has been through so far (though that might be a bit much for a novel sized text).
      I’d love to hear more about your experience working on a novel, particularly in regards to managing all the “prior text” when working on a particular segment.

  7. I love this post. I’ve trained everyone around me not to interrupt me when I writing. I explain it this way. I have a idea that I’m trying to get into works. When I’m interrupted, that idea shatters into a million pieces and I have to spend the next half hour picking them up and glueing them back together.

    I wrote 3 of my novels while living on a sailboat, and my rule was if we’re not sinking, I don’t need to know what’s happening. Only my dog ignores my rules 🙂

    • Yeah, pets and young children can be troublesome in that regard.
      One method I’ve adopted has been to sometimes put in foam earplugs, then some music headphones (which are playing music), and then add another layer of noise cancelling earmuff style headphones (the kind people wear when doing heavy construction). The combination is amazing at blocking out almost all sound, while the music helps to drown out the very muffled remainder.
      Also, belated congratulations on your novels.
      I imagine, depending on the size of the boat (and how many others were on board), that might have helped (no phone calls when you’re out on the water).

  8. I love Kristina’s answer! Escape to a sailboat. I’ve been known to put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door while I’m writing. I’ve described the writing/creating side like a trance. You call it a dreamlike state. What happens is we lose our reality and go into a different place. That’s what’s so amazing about fiction writing. My characters talk to me. They tell me what they plan to do. Sometimes I ask them what they’re going to do next.

    I’ve resorted to escaping to a coffee shop (because I can’t go out on a sailboat). There, I can tune out the other noises that are simply background and write away.

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s nice to know I’m not the only crazy one!

    • Crazy is such a relative statement. I often say “Sometimes the only sane thing to do is go in”.
      I’m rather fond of libraries, and basements.

  9. This sounds like the principle of “flow”. Apparently, it does take us 15-20 minutes to get into that fully engaged state you’re describing, no matter what the activity. So constant interruptions (like we often get at work) are why it can be hard to get any “deep work” done.

    • Yeah. And yet in some cases “others” are not really in the market to “listen”.
      Still, foam earplugs and headphones playing music are my go to for mental isolation in a busy space.

  10. I need to get back into the flow. I spent three weeks staying with friends who have no concept of me time (“I know you’re busy with your writing, but I have to ask this inconsequential question.”) I’ve been home a week. Time to get my butt in gear. (or my mojo working again).
    Thanks for the boost.

    • Happy to help. In some cases I find (much like security), there’s an element of “make it more work to achieve the goal then the goal is worth to them.” Sometimes that means isolating yourself in an obscure location (or far away), and sometimes it means finding other ways to isolate yourself.
      I think that’s one of the reasons I’ll often work late at night, when others are tired or asleep.

      Good luck. Hope you find your way back quickly and easily. When in doubt, I figure “let go of quality and preconceptions and just start putting words down on paper, or computer screen. Doesn’t have to be ‘good’. Just has to be words.”

  11. Have you ever read Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream? It’s a wonderful craft book that says a lot about getting into that meditative state that allows you access to your subconscious. His approach seems a lot like yours.

    • This is the first I’m hearing about it. Thank you for the recommendation.
      In some ways what you’re describing reminds me both of meditation and hypnosis.
      Since hypnosis is essentially a word based skill, I’ve been curious about it, and it is interesting how we tend to think of ourselves as a single “being”, when we are in fact at least 2, the conscious and the unconscious (though there are many ways of describing the relationship).
      Very interesting stuff.
      Lately I’ve been working with the concept that the conscious mind thinks, while the unconscious feels, and because the two are separate, the conscious cannot control the unconscious, but it can offer guidance and insight.
      It’s very interesting stuff.

      Thank you for the recommendation.

  12. Yes! Exactly this. As I noticed I The comments above, a lot of readers deal with this. It’s so good to know this is common, because that means there’s probably a book about hacks we can use to short-circuit the process of entering that state of flow. I’m totally checking into the book TD mentioned above.

    • It is reassuring to know that others face similar struggles. It’s funny, I read “short-circuit” and had a very different initial reaction. I agree, there probably are techniques for more readily achieving “that state”, though sometimes I find that what really helps me is “letting go of any sense of hurrying”, and simply letting it take as long as it takes. But I also find that every time is different, and you never know what will work when you set out on a writing session. One of the reasons I like to read and learn from others, collect more techniques for my toolbox.

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