Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week 39 - The Artistic Coma

23 Sep - 29 Sep:

In Becoming a Writer, first published in 1934 and still going strong, Dorothea Brande recommends a number of mind exercises for releasing creativity. (The page and the keyboard are in French so this could take a while).

1. Morning Writing:
  • Before seeing or hearing words, preferably whilst still in bed, write.
  • Write anything that comes to mind, especially dreams.
  • Write with the intention of finishing the piece in one sitting.
  • Wake up earlier than usual if necessary.

2. Wordless Recreation:
  • No T.V., no music with words, no theatre, no conversation, no reading.
  • The idea is to allow the mind to become partially hynotized by rhythmical, monotonous and wordless activities.
  • Examples include walking, knitting, whittling, fishing, cooking, gardening, horse-riding, shuffling cards, and in fact, anything that doesn't require a lot of concentration.
  • As the writer allows the mind to relax, ideas can flow freely, problems can be solved, thoughts can fuse into something meaningful, and better and easier writing follows. 
  • As a side note, those fans of Stephen King's On Writing will recall the author's dedication to his daily walk. Coincidence?

3. The Artistic Coma:
  • In a quiet place, shut your eyes and still your mind.  If it won't be still, focus on a dull object (like a black sock) and then close your eyes, still thinking of the dull object until that also leaves the mind. (This may take several days of practise.)
  • Think of someone else's story and replace one of the characters with someone you know. How does the new character react? What direction will the story now take?
  • Now think of one of your own characters. Imagine them doing things, saying things, living.
  • Go for a walk and watch your story inside your head. Start the story when you start the walk, and end the story when you end the walk. Think of the story, not how to write it.
  • Let your mind wander through your story as you have a shower or get a drink.
  • Back in a dark, quiet place, lie on your back, close your eyes, and take as long as necessary.
  • It could take ten minutes or two hours, but at some point, the overwhelming urge to write will hit.
  • Go and write.

My attempts:
  • Surprisingly, I have been successful in waking early and writing short, complete thoughts.
  • I have attempted the deliberate artistic coma and fallen asleep on three occasions.
  • Having said that, I do have a tendency to lie awake when I should be sleeping, thinking about my story, and lo and behold, I desperately need to get out of bed and jot down where I've identified a problem or resolved one. I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who does this.

The greater depth of thought brought about by a relaxed state of mind (when the brain produces alpha waves somewhere between light sleep and wakefulness) has been long understood, and there is plenty of research on the subject for those interested in the science.

Brande is suggesting that a writer can induce an artistic coma (otherwise known as 'the zone') anytime we want. I've read so many 'How to Write' books and articles from writers that insist on sticking to writing schedules and that dismiss inspiration as beginner's folly, but are we denying ourselves the opportunity to be inspired?

Who was the writer who said, "I write when I'm inspired, and I make sure I'm inspired every morning at ten o'clock."

Hey, why not?

Exercise 77. Relax.

Exercise 78. Write.


  1. Funny you should write on this....

    I am reading the book, "If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit" originally published in 1938. It's a soul-refreshing book that deviates from the how-to, dot the I's and cross the T's books I've been reading lately and emphasizes the sheer joy of writing without pandering to an audience or the drive to publish. Ahhhh. My soul sighs.

    As for letting the mind go numb, I do my best creative thinking on my morning jogs or hikes up the mountains. There is something about being outside with nature, the rhythmic flow of my breath and thudding of my feet, that frees up my mind to process. It can be an emotional time too, depending on what I churn up.

    Sounds like I'll have to add this book to my "to read" list too. Thanks for the review.


  2. Thanks back. I'll definitely look out for Ueland's book.

    Yes, I find the whole 'write to get published' thing interesting. Not good or bad, just interesting. I used to run everyday too, but I seldom raced, which was just plain weird to some people (why train if you don't compete?) Same thing, I guess.

    Ah, thank goodness the writing universe welcomes all personality types.

    1. P.S. I tried a hike in the mountains yesterday (somewhere near Mt Blanc) and the only stories I thought of were the ones that would appear in the local papers when they found me dead from heart failure. 'Le stupide touriste...' they would say.

    2. That made me laugh. I definitely have tortoise mentality in all my physical pursuits.

    3. I looked up Mt blanc. It's like 15,000 plus! Yeesh. I've climbed a couple low-tech 14ers before and above 11,000 I really start to feel it! I'm super impressed now.

    4. Ha ha, I said somewhere near Mt Blanc, not up it - that's just crazy talk! And I really would be dead... seriously.