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Write from your white-hot center – your dream state

Most people know whether they’re morning people or night people. I’m pretty sure I’m a hybrid. I love early mornings, but I also like to stay up late. Of course, it’s pretty hard to be both ways for long before you crash and burn and have to catch up on sleeping, which I also enjoy.

And despite the fact that I enjoy mornings, I’m not usually one of those ultra early risers. That changed when I read Robert Olen Butler’s book From Where You Dream. This book had a huge influence on my approach to writing.

Art does not come from what you know – the mind, Butler says. Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white-hot center of you. Do not “will” the work, Butler says. Write when you feel it’s coming from your unconscious. Butler’s instructions reminds me of how writer John Gardner described novels as “vivid, continuous dreams.”

I was intrigued by what Butler had to say about writing in your “dream state.” I wanted to see how my writing could be different with this approach. I wanted to be more committed to a daily writing practice. Like most writers who juggle writing along with full-time jobs and all the other stuff in life, I had been thinking about my schedule and how I could increase my writing time. I knew writing first thing in the morning was my best chance to write every day before other events or interruptions could interfere — best laid plans and all that. I was ready to put myself in a trance.

To lose your analytical, self-conscious side, learn how to put yourself into a trance, descend into a state of superconcentration — what psychologists call the “flow state,” and athletes call being “in the zone.”

Here are three techniques for entering your dream state:

  1. Embrace functional fixedness – a principle that says if you have a specific place and objects that you associate only with a certain task, the associational value builds up in such a way that when you go to that place and engage those objects, you are instantly completely focused on that task. Write in a specific place, in a specific way. For example, have the light a certain way. Play a certain piece of music. Have certain objects or rituals.
  2. Turn yourself into a morning person – Create your life so you can wake up early and go directly to your writing space. Go straight from one dream space to another, before you’ve had any other activities or language from reading material or the morning news or other interactions that would intrude.
  3. Write every day – it’s difficult to find your way into your writing or stay in a rhythm with your story if you’re inconsistent with your writing practice.

Everyone has their own way of carving time out to write and getting into their story world. I’d be interested to hear what works for you. In my next post, I’ll write about turning myself into a morning person (including how early I wake up) and writing from my dream state.

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