Sunday, November 13, 2011

Working In The Background

The brain is amazing. Recently, I’ve just spent several visits to the brain rehabilitation unit at a center just outside of Philadelphia. I’ve seen a whole variety of ways the brain is affected by various accidents and illnesses. One thing that made a lasting impression is the resiliency of the brain. You’ve heard the expression “spark of life” and I think that what they look for in those rehab units are sparks. All you need for a fire is a spark and all you need for a brain to reboot, so to speak, is just a spark.

In my own writing I am discovering my subliminal thought processes. My brain (everyone’s not just mine, so to speak) works on ideas long after I’m consciously entertaining them. We all know that but because I am working on very specific things, I’m noticing how much this is true and to what extent.

When one beta reader finished reading my manuscript he shocked me by saying that he especially liked the way I had set up a sequel to the book. I was surprised. What sequel? I had no intentions of writing a sequel and my interests are too eclectic to pigeon hole my writing into one area. I think that must have come from the permission to write about anything I chose when I was the editor of a weekly newspaper.

Everything was fair game for a story and when it wasn’t timely and newsworthy it became a feature. Having a press pass was a huge advantage because of the access you have. Not to mention the fun of speaking directly to people about their craft. I asked Mario Andretti about race cars and Virginia Wade about tennis. With Bill Bradley I stuck to his Senate race because asking him how he missed that buzzer shot in the 1971 playoffs against the Baltimore Bullets would have been poor form. Looking back, he might have been more comfortable had I asked him that.

Getting back to how the subliminal brain works (that digression was a revealing example how my conscious brain works), I have found lately that not only is it active but my subliminal passes off to my conscious brain in a persistent, forceful way. It’s a nudje. The only way I can get it off my mind is to write something down my brain’s subliminal suggestion. If I don’t, the “request” gets louder, louder and then more persistent, until I can’t stand it. A little voice kicks in reminding me that if I don’t write it down, it’ll get lost forever.

In the early days newspaper computers and filing stories, the Passaic bureau, that I wrote from in the last days of my reporter years, had workstations that were connected to the Hackensack main office of the Record, called “The Bergen Record” at the time. After and event, a meeting, and interview, I would drive back to the office and word process a story. When I was satisfied that it was complete, with no holes, the story would be transmitted to Hackensack. In those days, there was a one in five chance the transmission would get lost. I was composing live at the time so the story would be lost unless I had printed it out just before sending. If you can imagine that we thought the crude, dot matrix printing on that paper with the sprocket holes was cool rather than extremely clunky then you’ve put yourself back in the time frame of those heady days.

My newspaper luck had me hitting that one-in-five jackpot more frequently than I cared. Each time a lead headed into cyberspace it was a pain because once you write a good lead and lose it, you never get it back. Many times you can get close but for some reason, the lead never sounds as good as the first time you compose it. On the 15-20 minute ride back to the office, the lead would be composed and rewritten several times in my head. It was just a matter of getting there and inputting the characters. I think this is how my brain trained itself to keep being a nudje.

So now that a sequel was suggested my subliminal brain took the handoff from conscious brain and started working feverously on ideas for a sequel. Conscious brain would have never done that. It would have thought it presumptuous to write a sequel when the original idea hasn’t been published yet. But subliminal brain forged ahead and then started tapping me on the shoulder. Finally, to get rid of it I thought of a workable situation but it was still in the vague stage so subliminal brain didn’t pester me to write it down.

A few days later, when subliminal brain found a suitable scene it started pestering me to write it down. But before all the details came to me I had to figure out how the scene would be used in the story. I had a great scene in mind. Years ago, a Russian delegation had been sent by the state department to tour a US factory. There was an incident that happened that only those present knew about and, of course, those people to whom the story was related. The story made an impression on me so that I conscious brain called it up about 20 years later. The two brains working together came up with this really great scene. To subliminal brain’s joy I wrote it all down and then wrote an outline of the general sequel plot line, and gave the conditions under which the scene could occur.

To my relief, so far, subliminal brain has left me alone. I am not being pestered to jot anything down and unless this blog entry dredges anything up, I may not hear from subliminal brain about the sequel for a while. When the time comes I’ll poke and prod him to nudje me with ideas until I commit them to paper. In fact, I have a tremendous guard against “writer’s block,” something that never seems to be a problem with me. Should I ever get stumped, I’ll just saturate my consciousness with a subject and hand off the task to subliminal brain. When he’s ready, I’m sure he’ll get in touch with me. Meanwhile, I am terribly busy.

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