Write a story every day, part 4: The Trance

There you are, trying to write a story every day. You found a good concept—that was the easy part. Now all you need to do is to enter the frame of mind in which telling the story too becomes easy.

A web of oppositions exists inside every one of us: masculine and feminine qualities, yin and yang, right brain and left brain, adult and child, doer and observer. For writers, one opposition is particularly important: between the creator and the editor. The creator is free-flowing, playful, risk-loving. The editor is careful, judgmental, risk-averse. The creator says, “I want to. Let me. Yes.” The editor says, “Not so fast. Not quite. No.”

The real difficulty in writing the first draft of anything—a daily short story or an 800-page novel—is to let the creator prevail over the editor. Just as the masculine and the feminine can become integrated inside us, so can the creator and the editor. Sometimes they work so well together that a story is born perfect, freely conceived yet tightly structured. But if you haven’t achieved such an integrated state, your creator won’t say a word as long as the editor is breathing down her neck. The editor plays a fundamental role in all good writing, but the creator must be left alone for a little while in order to find her voice.

How can you make the editor shut up?

By entering a trance. A trance is a state where the editor takes a siesta while the creator runs the show. When you’re in a trance, you suspend judgment, criticism, the urge to question and to censor. Then the stories come out of their own accord, directly from your heart to the page. You don’t even need to type them. They type themselves! Honest Injun!

Locomotion sometimes creates the trance: walking, pacing, jogging, dancing, and otherwise moving at a regular rhythm all help the editor get tired and want a nap. Music can do the trick. Some sounds calm the editor, others excite it; when I play Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” my editor relaxes as soon as he hears the first beat of the first track. If you sit somewhere—at home or in public—and you concentrate your stare on a fixed point, your editor gets bored and falls asleep. Strangely, the opposite strategy also works: sit where you will and keep sweeping your eyes across the landscape, and the editor will get dizzy and call it quits.

The editor is a wimp. But the creator who lets the editor beat her up is a wimp too. Go sit down with a notebook right now. Pump the editor full of sleeping pills. Then just watch as the pencil dances on the page.