Friday, June 8, 2012

Letting the Beautiful Stuff Out

As most know, Ray Bradbury died earlier this week at the age of 91. He was a wonderful author, who wrote beautiful words. 

Mr. Bradbury once said, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

I used to have a really bad habit of saying “Um…” and then not following it with anything. It wasn’t that I was just looking to fill the silence. Generally, when the thought to speak was first sparked it was because I had something to say. But somewhere between that idea and its verbalization another thought got in the way. I remembered that I wanted to speak, but couldn’t quite figure out which of the thoughts I wanted to grasp. There’d be so many thoughts that my brain would overload and suddenly go blank. The only thing remaining was the memory that I had planned to say something.

Hence the “Um…”

Needless to say, it drove people around me crazy. Particularly the Roomie who had to deal with it the most. I’d say “Um….”, she’d stop what she was doing to listen to me and then there’d be nothing. Just me, staring off into space.

I’d like to think I’ve curbed this impulse and that this doesn’t happen as frequently anymore. (If it does, I'm pretty sure Roomie’s gotten desensitized to it.)

Still, regardless of the possibility that I’ve increased my mental organization, there’s still a whole lot going on up there. As I assume is the case for most.

This gets particularly bad when I’m writing a story. What happens for me is that I picture scenes. They play out in my head like a movie. I tweak dialogue and direction a bit before putting it down on the page, but the first draft is generally pretty faithful to the scene in my head. But every scene that appears goes off into any number of directions. My brain starts to process the scene immediately following this one, but it also jumps to a scene in the future (sometimes the very far future) where something from this first scene will be found to have relevance. Or maybe something that one of the characters said sparks a thought for something a few scenes away.

The scenes battle for superiority in my head, intruding in ways that makes it nearly impossible for me to focus on just one. So, I sit, staring at my computer screen, thinking “Um……” and then, for awhile, there’s nothing. Eventually one scene wins out over the others. Occasionally, it’s the one that’s way down the line. The scene that may not even be usable in this story, but will have to wait for the next. But I write it down anyway because it’s running around my brain like a little kid hopped up on Yoohoo and will not calm down until I have gotten it on the page.

I certainly get the feeling that my brain is always being filled. I just don’t think I’ve quite figured out Mr. Bradbury’s trick yet. Sometimes when I tip over, nothing at all comes out, leading to one of my “Um….” moments. And often when something does emerge, it can’t quite be codified as beautiful. Mildly attractive, maybe. But I figure this is the fun of writing. Throwing some half-baked idea on the page and then working until it becomes something solid.

Someday maybe I’ll reach the point where I’m better at letting the beautiful stuff out. But for now, I’ll take comfort in the words of Faber in Mr. Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

You’re afraid of mistakes. Don’t be. Mistakes can be profited by.

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