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The Twilight Zone of Writing

Sometimes you may find yourself writing your best passages in the craziest places, doing everything *but* actively writing.

"You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone."
The Twilight Zone

I went for a run this morning. I hadn't gone for months (make that, one year) because my running shoes were too tight. Yesterday I bought a new pair, and oh boy does half a size make a difference.

I was happy to rediscover lost sensations: the rolling of my muscles; the freshness of the forest in the morning, just before my body started to warm up to the effort (after which freshness was only a memory); my confusion at crossroads because I was going to fast, despite that I'd walked this path one hundred times before (that's a fact I'll probably use in a story, at some point).

And then, when the knees stopped hurting and the speed was good, I entered the Twilight Zone.

I could still see the path, the young leaves, the bright flowers. I could still greet fellow cyclists, joggers and walkers. But I was somewhere else -- inside a hut lost in the middle of a jungle, on planet P-whatever. Teal'c was deep in kel'no'reem, his exhaustion obvious to whoever knew him well. Daniel was telling Sam why he loved this place despite the constant discomfort and danger. Sam thought he was nuts. She also wondered why she wasn't more excited with the earth-shattering discovery he'd made. Everything felt so wrong -- she felt wrong to herself. Jack was standing in the doorway, listening to the conversation. Relieved that his team was alive, but worried with both Daniel and Sam.

In fact, as my body had switched on automatic, my brain drifted toward my latest fanfic (the Big Bad Meanie New Bitch of a Story, for those who follow its progression -- and yes I know, I really need to find a shorter working title).

Sport does that to me -- not all sports, but things like tramping, running, swimming, cycling. After half an hour or so, I experience a "Runner's high". Endorphin kicks in. I feel good. I feel beautiful and fit. I feel zen. Images, words and music fill my mind. I've written poetry while running. I've painted and played guitar while tramping. Sport frees my creativity.

Other situations that, as far as I know, don't involve endorphin, propell me into the twilight zone as well. Driving is one of them. Showering. Playing guitar. Drawing. Alcohol and drugs (hey, I'm talking medication here) -- but they make me lose too much coherence to be really interesting.

Have you read Drawing on the right side of the brain, by Betty Edwards? She says very interesting things about the brain. About how its two halves work a different way. To sum it up, "the mode of the left hemisphere is verbal and analytic, while that of the right is nonverbal and global". Without a global perception of the world, I assume it'd be very difficult, if not impossible, to link various elements with no visible connection to each other. I know for sure that without these links that I create while tapping into my right hemisphere, my stories would be lame and extremely boring (I say they aren't. Natch! I can gloat a bit, I'm still on a high!).

Now, about the right mode being nonverbal... Well, maybe. If that is so, it means I can still access my left hemisphere very easily, as I can hear dialogs and even 'write' whole texts while in the Twilight Zone. I think that in these situations, my right hemisphere takes control over the left one, but the latter doesn't stop working and can still churn out words.

This altered state of consciousness allows me to link together bits and pieces of knowledge I have acquired via research or to develop plots into visual scenes. It is also, to me, a good way to forget that writing scares me. It's much easier to toy with words when I don't have to face the doodled pages of my notebook or the glowing screen of my computer.

Another quote from Betty Edwards' book:

"The key to learning to draw, therefore, is to set up conditions that cause you to make a mental shift to a different mode of information processing -- the slightly altered state of consciousness -- that enables you to see well. In this drawing mode, you will be able to draw your perceptions even though you may never have studied drawing. Once the drawing mode is familiar to you, you will be able to consciously control the mental shift."

While I don't completely agree with her (being familiar and not too clumsy with the drawing tools you're using is a definite help, for example), I admit that you see with more clarity in this mode. Been there, done that.

Sure, that quote above is about drawing. However, I'm pretty sure that it's also relevant to writing on the basis that, in my experience, my perception of the fictitious characters I'm writing on or of what elements are important to the plot becomes more acute. I can 'see' better, indeed. I'm not saying I don't need the other mode -- I think I need both, just not at the same time. But the right mode make words flow more smoothly.

I suppose everybody has his favorite access to the Zone. If running is what it takes to reach it, so be it. I'm quite partial to the endorphin kick anyway. :-)

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 §   What else ?
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain -- official website (with excerpts of the book)
The work of Dr. Betty Edwards, author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, has enabled millions of people around the world to learn to draw. Here, we will introduce you to her teaching technique, a little of the theory behind it, and to an exercise that demonstrates its effectiveness.
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Runner's high, by Sarah Willett (online article)
"Many people have related runner's high to the feeling of an orgasm. At this time, the body and mind are both highly stimulated and seem to elevate a person's senses. Other people have responded to the question of "What is runner's high?" by saying that when the environmental stimuli around you is near perfect and you are feeling good you are actually feeling a type of "high"."
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