HOW TO MAKE IT WORK
by Robert Lopresti
In last week’s wisdom-fest I talked about the process by which creative work is done. I said there are two forces involved in the project. The Miner digs through your subconscious mind and brings out ore that the Jeweler then turns into something beautiful, or at least sellable. I said that every time we get a creative idea and ignore it we are snubbing the Miner, teaching him that his work isn’t valued. We are making him lazy,
So how do we send the Miner to a gym, whip him into shape and make him eager to do his part? Well, there are a lot of ways and you have to figure out which ones work for you. It is probably time to drop the labor conflict metaphor in favor of the courting process. You are trying to woo your subconscious mind, and how do you woo anyone? Spending attention and money aren’t bad ideas.
You’ve got my attention
Nobody likes to be ignored and the Miner is no exception. So you have to start listening to those mumbled cues and clues. Carry a pocket notebook and when something that looks like a possible story idea pops up write it down. I believe Buckminster Fuller said that when you get an idea you have twenty minutes to do something with it; then it goes away. Don’t let that precious time slip past.
Some people write for a certain amount of time each day. I think Raymond Chandler who said he sat at a desk a given number of hours each morning; he didn’t have to write, but he wasn’t allowed to do anything else. (You might say he was a Behaviorist before B.F. Skinner.)
Another possibly apocryphal story. I heard once that Edna St. Vincent Millay said she wrote for a set time each day. A horrified listener said “But don’t you need inspiration to write poetry?” “When inspiration comes, it finds me at my desk.”
Last week in the comments on my column Deb wrote, about the Miner: “Sometimes I beg. I think he likes that.”
Each of these writers understood that you have to convince the Miner you are paying attention. I’m sure most of the writers who read this will agree that when you start paying attention to ideas, more of them come along to pay attention to.
Moolah for the Miner
If you want to convince someone that you value their work, say it with cash. As Frederick Herzberg said, only money is both a motivator and a hygiene factor (translation = more money makes you like your job more, less makes you dislike it more)..
You can’t put an extra zero at the end of the Miner’s paycheck, but you can spend money on him. Maybe you should buy that new computer, or the new printer. Go to that writer’s conference. (Of course this works both ways … not only does spending the money prove you are taking the work seriously, but it may guilt you into spending more time on it.)
What about the other guy?
You may be wondering about the Jeweler? Doesn’t he need some tender love and care? Well, he’s easier to shop for, you might say, because he is more or less the part of you that does your conscious thinking. But the interesting thing is, those same gifts you give to the Miner — gifts of attention and money — will make the Jeweler work harder as well.
The delicate stage
One more thing about coddling the Miner — and again, I can only tell you what works for me. Your mileage will certainly vary.
I write the first draft as fast as I can; no editing, with as little thinking as I can get away. I know every sentence will be changed before the story goes out in the mail, so I don’t worry about perfection. Just keep writing. If the miner is finding things down in the pit, don’t stop to assess their quality. Clear the track and let him get on with his work.
Because he is you, just like the Jeweler. And if you can’t all work together, the result is a blank page.