"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Waking Up to Stories

If you have not heard me wax poetic about why you should be listening to the New Yorker Fiction Podcast, you haven't been following me closely enough. Basically it's a podcast in which a well known author reads their favorite short story from the New Yorker archives, and then talks about it with the magazine's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. I usually listen in bed, with ear buds tucked into my ears, staring up at ceiling of my darkened room and letting the words fill my head. There is something immensely therapeutic about falling asleep to someone reading a story, and I highly recommend it to everyone, not just fellow writers. But what I want to talk about today is waking up to stories.

Recently I got an alarm clock that doubles as an ipod player. For I while I set it so I would wake up to my movie themes playlist, but one night when I had been listening to the New Yorker Fiction Podcast I plugged my ipod in an fell asleep without resetting it. The next morning I woke up to the same story I'd been listening to the night before, which happened to be Miranda July's "Roy Spivey", as read by David Sedaris. It's a strange feeling, waking up to David Sedaris's voice, reading a story in which, in one instance, a celebrity pumps Frebreeze onto the underarms of the woman he's sitting next to on an airplane. But what I realized was, that in the space between waking and sleeping the context of the story fell away. I paid attention to the sound of the words. Strange images flashed through my dreams, while all the while the voice of the reader cut through my mind like water. Eventually I woke up enough to identify what I was listening to, but I realized that the important part had already taken place. The words were already in my subconscious.

"Subconscious" may seem like a loaded term for you. I'm not saying that your "inner mind" is going to write your books for you, or that doing this randomly and without thinking about it will make you a better writer. But it's been my experience that you have to pay attention to how stories work, and listening to them, especially in this half-conscious state, allows your brain to detach itself from the emotional context and just listen to the words. It lets you hear the way sentences flow together. It shows you how the emphasis falls on some words and not others. Maybe your dreams change when you wake up listening to a certain story. Pay attention to what happens in these dreams, because that's the kind of vivid and visceral reaction we writers are trying to get from our readers. There is a reason that so many writers make writing the first thing they do in the morning after waking up. In this space we are closer to our subconscious, and when we wake up to stories we wake up with words already in our heads.

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