Every writer is tempted to try writing in a stream of consciousness. At least once. Sometimes it seems like a good idea, particularly if you are stumped and have absolutely no clue what to write at that moment. But then, how many writers are Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, or Marcel Proust? Or, Bob Dylan singing about his dream on “ The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan?
Recording your thoughts is one thing, what comes out of it is yet another. The problem here does not lie in the manner you thoughts will read like, whether they will make sense to anybody, including yourself, or whether your sentences will be grammatically correct. It is, in what the early cybernetics researchers used to call ‘the black box effect’ — you might know what is coming in, but you cannot be certain what is going to come out.
The stream of consciousness is complicated in its simplicity — it is revealing. It leaves no places to hide your thoughts and feelings, it is, first of all, revealing about the writer himself. It is often a process where a writer turns himself into his own therapist. Thoughts come out as if they have their own free will, with no respect or excuses. No hiding.
For some, that could be quite a frightening process. You may fashion and modify, those thoughts when they have been written down, but then, is that the true stream of your thoughts? Sure, you can fashion and modify the text, it can seem and read like the stream of consciousness, but is that really it or is it something you think it should be?
Not everybody is willing or courageous enough to practically bare it all, you leave yourself completely open to a judgment of anybody and everybody who is reading your thoughts. But then the key question you need to answer is whether you really want to judge yourself. Writing down whatever comes to your mind is simple, what comes out can be very complicated.
It started out like this: “Spam — “A tinned meat product made mainly from ham,” as Oxford Living Dictionary puts it. I guess, the accent there should be on “mainly”. Spam it seems was coined out of spiced ham where that ‘spiced’ part turned out to be neither spicy or particularly healthy. I guess that is where all the complaints came from, as far as the original spam is concerned.
But then, that ham part seems to have been lost completely, while that ‘spicy’ or ‘not so main’ part took over, and it all turned into “Irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, typically to a large number of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.”
These days, it turned into an irritating habit of mass bombardment, of your email or almost any online page you try to open, basically taking over your information (and inspiration) sources. Oh, with another irritating habit of your email services, in an attempt to alleviate the pressure deciding themselves what needs to end up in your spam or trash boxes, with quite a few messages you do want to read or need ending up there.
In the end, you find yourself looking at the spam anyway. Useless exercise, besides retrieving something you want or need? Not really, particularly if as a writer, you are scraping the barrel for ideas, for whatever reason you are in a situation that they are running dry.
So why not use this current, modern spam as inspiration? At least three music bands use it as their name, there are as many album that hold that title, and the range of songs go from Weird Al Yankovic spoof to classical compositions like “Menagerie: №7, Spam Guitar by Rolland Miller.
Sure, it takes an effort, maybe even a stretch of imagination, but you can pick up almost any spam message and turn it into a source that will get your writing on the roll. Sometimes, those that seem almost unbearable to look at can be even more inspiring — at least if you turn the anger they created into something productive. By chance, the one I’m looking at right now from somebody that claims they are representing “a luxury hotel company” is asking me to be inspired by their ad.
And why not? New love at a sandy beach, a mystery evolving by a crackling fireplace in a ski resort, anything that involves a ‘luxurious’ or not so luxurious hotel. Somewhere. Make that ‘spice’ useful. With or without ham. If the inspiration is still lacking, you can always resort to Weird Al Yankovic or that “Spam Guitar” modern classical piece and find the ham in spam.
I have a pile of documents, notes, thoughts my late father left behind him. Some of them are clear and precise, some are disjointed, puzzling, even mystifying. Still, they present an opportunity to create some meaningful writing about a life that possessed something that is worth writing down, from a man that was very eloquent when he talked but was never able to turn his life stories into something that was truly readable.
The first thing that comes to my mind confronted with exploring documents, notes, whether they are official records of some sort or personal, belonging to somebody you know or family is probably — old. But, that is probably just the surface behind them. After all, they don’t really have to be that old, they could be something that pertains to something that happened just a few moments ago, or a thought written down that has no time definition.
How do you approach these, records, memories, thoughts when you want to transform them into thoughtful, cohesive writing. Do you just stick to the “Old”, like in that not so well known Paul Simon song, or are you in the realm of “Into The Mystic” that more known one by Van Morrison?
Like with all things that passed, memories, you enter the territory of interpretation and viewpoint, and it certainly depends on the question of the writer’s approach. How do you tackle facts and views, even your own when you want to delve into writing about them?
The dilemma lies somewhere between ’sticking to the facts’, relying on some sort of data that is presented in those ‘documents’ and interpreting them from your personal standpoint, or even using them just as a springboard that will take you ‘into the mystic’, a set of events and explanations that are really existing only in your imagination.
Most of the time though, unless your writing is just the strict ‘setting the record straight’, there is no dilemma. It is all of those, and even ‘setting the record straight’ is not that straight, unless you are talking statistics. The question that constantly comes to my mind is — what are all those documents, notes, memories thoughts telling me about those who recorded them, my father, and what are they telling me about myself. Maybe then that ‘mystic’ I’ll be entering as a writer might be less mystifying.
"If your memory serves you well..." The quote comes from one of the most iconic opening lines in modern music, Bob Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire”. Musicians kept and keep recalling it. Canadian singer Serena Ryder titled (a very good) album with that line, and the experimental jazzers Material, led by Bill Laswell at the time just shortened it to “Memory Serves”, giving it more space for thought. Either way you look at it, memory can serve you well, or it can’t, the question for the writers is — does it have to?
It depends. Even if you are writing memoirs. But what about the facts, some might say. The facts? The accurate facts are for historians, academics and reporters of events, journalists, and yes, they are writers too (let us leave politicians and business PR people out of it this time around), but even their accounts of facts and events can be modified and they too have their slant on these. Whether they should or shouldn’t. Maybe the mind serves the writers well, the question is, so what?
We can use our notebooks, note-taking software, audio and video recording material, and even then, after an event or a moment in our lives has passed by, we modify them in our mind, we give some persons or elements in those a certain designation, move them forward or backward. Our mind often plays tricks on us. Or maybe we play tricks on our mind.
Writers, particularly of fiction, and it doesn’t matter whether it involves some form of science or not, always present a personal interpretation of events, true or false. And yes, we can debate what is true or false and come up with an infinite number of answers, but key fact remains that writers’ recollections and memories are their own, even when they are recounting real-life events.
So yes, as a writer you can and should ask yourself whether your memory serves you well, but there is a more pertinent question you always have to have in mind — does your point of view serve you well?
“What A Difference A Day Makes” a great song and a great interpretation by Esther Phillips. One day you view things in one way, the other it is completely different, depending on mood, or whatever. When writing something, an idea, a thought, a thing can be a very inspiring element one moment, the next, it can be a complete distraction.
It is up to writers to let themselves be either inspired or fall under any kind of pressure they are under and be distracted. The same, absolutely the same object can be one of writer’s desire, or an obstruction that is trampling him, preventing him to develop his ideas, an object of hate.
Let’s take something seemingly trivial, like a notebook. Not every writer uses one these days, I do. It is considered to be a fancy one, Moleskine, a special Blue Note edition with Thelonious Monk on the cover.
Now, I could go the way of the choice Moleskine as a company has with their notebooks and agendas, all the great jazz that came and is still coming out of Blue Note as a label or Monk himself one of the greatest musicians, not only in jazz but music as is.
So, Monk, it is. Listening to his music, you constantly have the impression that the sounds are shifting in a surprising direction, as if they are re-arranging themselves randomly, seemingly falling apart, but always coming together in some perfect order. You get a feeling that Monk is actually turning a musical kaleidoscope and not playing the piano.
So, I guess, I can get inspired by a notebook I write my notes in, just by itself. A do I can certainly be distracted by it — I can’t find where it is, its rubber band is constantly loosening up, or I simply can’t read my own handwriting, all those ideas I wrote down in a hurry, looking like mysterious hieroglyphs hiding their true meaning.
But then, I could even go from there and actually turn a distraction into an inspiring idea. It just takes a bit of effort and something that is stifling you can actually give more breathing (writing) space.
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