Woody Allen recently:What people who don’t write don’t understand is that they think you make up the line consciously — but you don’t. It proceeds from your unconscious. So it’s the same surprise to you when it emerges as it is to the audience when the comic says it. I don’t think of the joke and then say it. I say it and then realize what I’ve said. And I laugh at it, because I’m hearing it for the first time myself.
Whenever I find myself in a bout of nonwriting (not writer’s block per se, but an extended period of nonwritingness), I know it’s this. Not a lack of ideas, not a lack of the right space to write, the right drink, the right order, the right methods, the proper instrument, not a deficit of time. It’s simply my conscious getting in the way. I would be better off saying things more wildly, then looking at what I’d said. Do first, think later; many things can benefit from this method — falling in love, taking your first job, speaking up for what you believe in. Write first, think later. Repeat.
Write first, think later?
My theory is this: an unconscious approach to writing is one tool, but not the only one. I start my writing a lot of the time by lying on my couch with my eyes closed, thinking about some idea or event, and then I develop an angle, a take on it. Then I sit at my desk and write down what I have been thinking.
A lot of my writing is based on reading something someone has written, and I get stuck on a paragraph: it grabs me, or I totally disagree, or it sparks a new connection to something else. And then I write that down next to the paragraph.
But some of the time I am surprised by what I write, never knowing what was happening until I read it, like someone close and smarter sent it to me. Or maybe from a future me, a me that had assimilated the thought and captured it for me.