I know it’s summer, and today it’s particularly hot and drowsy, but it occurred to me that deep thinking and drowsy summer afternoons are not necessarily incompatible.
Stream of consciousness: Basically, it’s eavesdropping on the heart and mind of a character – being privy to his or her innermost private thoughts. By writing in this style, we’re exposing the most intimate qualities of a human being, ones that we are hardly aware of even in ourselves. After all, how often do we think about what we are thinking about?
William James defined four aspects of consciousness, which I loosely interpret thus:
- deeply personal, individual
- always changing
- never ceasing
- interested in some things to the exclusion of others; all the time making choices about what to be conscious of
These are all important, but the last, to us writers, is the most fascinating. Why do we glom onto the little red wagon or the sound of the rooster crowing in that particular poem or story? There are at least a hundred other experiences on the fringe of our consciousness that we could have chosen instead. What we decide to leave out of our story is as important as what we include.
The streams of images, thoughts, and emotions that flow when we write this way are not mere shattered fragments. They are windows into the heart of the character we describe. We’re taking our reader on an interior journey, one that synthesizes the experience of weather, or horror, or love with the person experiencing it, rather than the old-fashioned style of writing which was more analytical or descriptive.
The task is not to write about a ‘real’ world, but rather to synthesize experiences, pain and suffering, and ideas with a world that doesn’t really make much sense. Face it – there’s an awful lot of unexplainable mystery going on all around us, all the time. What is life? What is your purpose? Where does the universe begin or end? And on and on. Writing from the heart of a character in this way brings us back to a sense of one-ness, with others, and with the world itself. There is no longer the separation of object–subject, or “I and thou.” We are actually creating ourselves, as much as we create characters, countries, and stories. And perhaps that is as much as we can understand about life anyway.
So write buoyed by wild thyme and forgetmenots, in the shade of thickly branching maples. The funny bubbling noises of the brook. It’s at the bend in the river that the world began. Sandcastles and red pails – Dotty calling from the ice cream truck. The branches sway. Somber telegram. Oh, there’s a robin! And then that boy kissed me – he had fond eyes, but fond of what? We were in a barn and had lost the others. The bobolink singing its heart out and a cherry pie and my mother is still around. I think we’ve heard that song before; the stars seem extra big tonight. A long boat ride to the island. Dancing with my father to Benny Goodman, and the notes were all silver and streamy. Sometimes, somewhere, the sun doesn’t set. That was a good voyage, when the sea met the horizon.
Using stream of consciousness, write three paragraphs that describe your life. But only use summery analogies or memories or metaphors.
Do this same exercise every day this week, and see how differently your autobiography emerges in each one. Some will have a mood of nostalgia, others of bliss, others of a discovery or a person… see if you can latch onto a theme or mood as you let your mind stream through your past and cull imagery and feeling, and in an abbreviated version, tell your life story.
- the tiger stalking through the jungle
- painting the barn
- staying up all night talking
- cornflower blue
- swimming holes