Archive for the The Science of It All Category

A Writer’s Adventures in Wonderland

Posted in The Science of It All on October 16, 2009 by Lizzie

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.