A Writer’s Adventures in Wonderland

While reading Roger Rosenblatt’s essay on the tragic William Manchester, I found a curious description of the writer’s mind:

The writer’s mind, when it works, is like Alice’s rabbit, leading quickly, almost recklessly, to mysterious, yet attractive, places. The animal is fretful because it has to find and display something at the same time. A writer writes to discover what he or she thinks. Take a single sentence. Take a sentence of William Manchester’s — this sentence about Churchill’s funeral: “When his flag-draped coffin moved slowly across the old capital, drawn by naval ratings and bare-headed Londoners stood trembling in the cold, they mourned, not only him and all he had meant, but all they had been and no longer were, and would never be again.” Most likely, Manchester had only the scantiest idea where that sentence would end when he began it. Only when he caught up with it could he know. But then, there was another sentence running ahead of him. There was always another sentence.

Is this how it works?  Do all writers have furry woodland animals running down nerves and neurons in their brains?

What an image.  A thought in disguise of Lewis Carroll’s caffeinated creature.  But this is what it feels like.  One word on a billboard can erupt into a billion stinging ideas for a novel, and before you know it, you’re careening off into a ditch while trying to write down all the possible plots and characters and scenes  into a worn notebook.  And, of course, the white rabbit of thought can disappear just as suddenly as it popped up from its hole.  One minute your mind is on fire, and the next, the bunny decides to stop for tea, affectionately known as writer’s block. 

This description seems an accurate portrayal of my scattered mind.  I sit down at the computer to write, not to plan.  An outline of my story, my article, my essay is sure to be the kiss of death.  You cannot plan for what you don’t yet know. 

This concept is exactly what makes writing so intoxicating.  Writers love to read, and writing is just another form of turning pages in anticipation of what’s to come.  The mind is the storyteller, and the writer is left under the covers with the flashlight.   I write to discover more about my characters.  I write to glimpse what will happen to each of them in the end.  It’s detective work of the most thrilling kind.

Get acquainted with your own white rabbit.  After all, he’ll be around for quite a while.


14 Responses to “A Writer’s Adventures in Wonderland”

  1. Thank you for your comment!

    This concept of the white rabbit is so very true! I can never sit down to write only to stop in the middle, I have to complete the entire thing. The same goes for reading something really interesting. I will read and read and read until I fall asleep or until my brain is physically hurting!

  2. Kat Arney Says:

    Nice blog – I find my problem is that I’m constantly thinking of things when I can’t write them down (while cycling or running, while in a meeting, or while I’m asleep). Then when I sit down to write, everything vanishes out of my head.

    • Thanks, Kat. I also constantly get ideas when I’m running, and when I finally get back to the house to grab pen and paper, they all disappear. It’s quite frustrating, but I don’t think I’m up to the point where I’ll be carrying a notebook around while I jog.

  3. Rain helps me write. Not wimpy rain but a deluge. I think my brain makes an analogy with its liquidity and starts draining its resources into my fingers. Normally my problem is structuring my thoughts after they leave my brain. It’s like squeezing water from a spray bottle—the thoughts are swishing around inside, but when they hit the air they scatter. Consequently I undergo much deliberation for every sentence I write, unless I have a rare moment of lucidity, and often I work on a single sentence for several minutes before I can possibly start the next.

    But I agree that planning is inefficient. It might make some parts easier later on, but concocting intricate structures is usually a waste of time because they’re never realized the same way they’re mapped out.

    • I really like that analogy. Rainy days are my favorite days, and I am usually the most creative during thunderstorms. This is why I plan on moving to a dreary location in Europe to actually get some writing done.

    • Kevin, I just found an app that plays all this lovely white noise . . . including rain. It’s helping so far. Not so much with school assignments but definitely the creative writing.

      • Sometimes I can listen to classical music, but usually my mind doesn’t let me listen to it as background noise, and I get distracted. (It’s sort of like the statement that music during dinner is offensive to both the violinist and the chef.) Where’s this magical app?

      • I just searched the app store for white noise, and it was the first free one. Try it – it also has crickets, thunder, grandfather clocks, and waves as well as pouring rain. And it helps . . . I put on my headphones the other day while reading, and even though I fell asleep in minutes, I managed to take a refreshing nap even with my family all around. It really blocks out the noise.

    • …so precocious.

  4. Planning’s important, I think, no matter what that punk Dickinson says. SO precocious, that one. I think a good balance of planning and feeling out is the key. The way I see it, you need a compass. You need to find north before you start walking or else you’re just wandering around the wilderness, possibly in circles. Sure, you might stumble upon a waterfall, or a pot of gold, or a unicorn, but it could be years of fruitless ambling before you see anything but the trees and the dirt and the bugs. Grab a map and plan a trip that’ll take you by some already instituted wonders, then, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a detour into the uncharted and wander around for a while, and if the uncharted gets boring you can just use your map and your compass to get back on course. How’s that for a metaphor?

    I’m not saying I’m a meticulous planner, though. I bang out a progression of the story and stick in some wayflags and write from flag to flag. How get from one to the other is a mystery to me while I’m writing, but I know I’m on the right path.

    • I wish I were more like you. Then I could probably get more writing done! I cannot even plan with academic papers. My desk is usually cluttered with a million sticky notes and napkins full of points I want to make in a paper. I don’t know how the final essays comes together, but they do.

  5. “Do all writers have furry woodland animals running down nerves and neurons in their brains? …And, of course, the white rabbit of thought can disappear just as suddenly as it popped up from its hole.”

    like this a lot!

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