Crucial Writing Tip: Don't Fall Out of the Fictive Dream

As writers we often experience writer's block. We just don't know which way the plot should go next. Or we feel that an idea we were very enthusiastic about and envisioned clearly no longer excites us. Or a character that we felt we understood in a deep and truthful way is beginning to fade or stiffen. What has happened in these cases? I believe we have fallen out of the fictive dream.

John Gardner in his wonderful book on writing, The Art of Fiction, which I strongly recommend, describes the fictive dream beautifully:

"In the writing state--the state of inspiration--the fictive dream springsup fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. . . . When the writer writes down on paper what he has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract his mind from the fictive dream but provide him with a fix on it, so that when the dream flags he can reread what he's written and find the dream starting up again. . . until reality, by comparison, seems cold, tedious, and dead."

We want to keep ourselves from falling out of this dream because, once we are out of it, it is difficult to re-enter. Sometimes we may never manage to find that magic space again. Coleridge's unfinished marvel of evocation, "Kubla Khan," is a cautionary tale for us all.

What then can we do to remain in the fictive dream? One of my suggestions to my students is to revisit the dream as often as we can, with as little a gap between visits as our lifestyle allows. This means we have to write--or at least contemplate our work-in-progress--regularly. My experience--with myself and my M.F.A. students--is that if you are away from the work for over three days, the intensity of the vision--and thus the intensity of the desire to capture it--begins to fade. I've seen this happen to extremely talented writers. They abandon one work and go on to start a new one, hoping to sustain the fictive dream. But unless they implement a plan to keep the new dream alive, it too will wither away.

The bottom line: create a writing schedule and stick to it. I suggest at least 3 times a week. Every day (at least the weekdays) would be preferable. At least an hour at a stretch. If it's possible to do it at the same time each day, it helps. (Once we develop the habit, it's almost as though we get hungry for writing at that time).

Some of you are thinking, I just don't have that much time. I have a lot of other responsibilities. How can I carve out all those hours from a life that's already hectic and over-scheduled?

I'll write about that soon. Stay tuned.

Different writers write differently--I'm very aware of that. I'd love to hear how you keep your fictive dream alive and well.