The writing state and the fictive dream.

If you’ve been writing for a while then you may relate to this passage from John Gardner’s ‘On becoming a Novelist’. It’s on page 120 and I’m going to quote it here.

(Note: Because I’m a woman I always read this passage with ‘she’ instead of ‘he’ and ‘her’ for ‘his’. So the text below is not how it appears in Gardner’s book. This is how I read it to myself.)

‘In the writing state – the state of inspiration – the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words she has written on the page and sees, instead, her characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what she has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract her mind from the fictive dream but provide her with a fix on it, so that when the dream flags she can reread what she’s written and find the dream starting up again.

This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer’s process: in her imagination, she sees made-up people doing things – sees them clearly – and in the act of wondering what they will do next she sees what they will do next, and all this she writes down in the best, most accurate words she can find, understanding even as she writes that she may have to find better words later, and that a change in the words may mean a sharpening or deepening of the vision, the fictive dream or vision becoming more and more lucid, until reality, by comparison, seems cold, tedious, and dead. This is the process she must learn to set off at will and to guard against hostile mental forces.

Every writer has experienced at least moments of this strange, magical state.’

When I get wound up and stuck in my writing, I read this passage and it makes me cry because I want to do so much for my characters within my limited ability to find the words to do so.

Then I tell myself ‘You can do this’ and keep going.

Have you ever felt like this?

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