Category Archives: Writing Through the Year

Hypnopompia – is that even a word?

Yes it is! – I learned it from Winslow Eliot in her beautiful book Writing through the year.

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Winslow Eliot says that Hypnopompia is that marvelous in-between moment before you’re fully awake. She also mentions a corresponding state, called Hypnagogia, which occurs in the moments before you fall asleep.

It is said that in these states, where you are in a zone between sleep and being awake, there is possibility for increased creativity. This has been utilized by famous persons, in their artistic but also scientific endeavours, and as explained by Winslow Eliot, it has to do with how our brain works:

During hypnagogia, the normal activity of the left/logical side of your brain is inhibited, allowing imagery in your right/creative brain freedom to experience whatever it wants to, without trying to analyze itself.

The whole reasoning, which also reminds us of the interesting topic of the divided brain, suggests that we should take advantage of what is happening underneath – down in that dark chamber that we call the unconscious – if we want to produce great works of art.

It sounds a bit scary to me. If you ask Robert Olen Butler, it is, and should be, scary. He says, in the very fascinating book called From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction – which, by the way, I think, I found via a reference from Sarah Selecky – that virtually all inexperienced writers end up in their heads instead of the unconscious, and he also gives an explanation for why: the unconscious is simply scary as hell.

But there is hope, I think, and I was encouraged to continue writing when I read the book, which I also finished.

It contains many gems, including a discussion about what we could mean when we use the word art. Robert Olen Butler says that what we remember comes out as journalism, and what we forget goes into the compost of the imagination. And only when we let the memories decompose, down in that chamber we cannot access by force of our will, can we recompose them into new works of art.

The book also echoes many pieces of advice seen elsewhere, which tell us to write every day, and it tells us that

Once you are engaged in writing a piece of fiction from your unconscious, it is crucial that you write every day, because the nature of this place where you go is such that it is very difficult to find your way in.

and also that we are allowed to take one day off, occasionally, but beware, as Robert says: you take two days off and you’re on very thin ice.

The book also has some case studies. In these, we are allowed to see the writing of some of his students, and we are allowed to follow discussions on their writings. I found this very interesting, and there are references to Robert Olen Butler’s own works, in the form of shared pieces from his own writings – some that he is satisfied with, and some that he is not so proud of.

As a final remark about the book, I want to mention the chapter called Cinema of the mind. I found it to be an eye-opener, and there are some very interesting studies in there – one I especially remember is from Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemmingway – showing us how thinking (sorry – I meant letting your unconscious guide you) like a film-maker can help a lot when creating fiction.

So now I try to live as I learned. I have practised a short morning ritual of Hypnopompia-assisted writing for some weeks now. And yes, I can recommend it. It has also increased my word count, so someday I may even finish my writing project.

And in the meanwhile, of course, we should remember that the writing itself is a kind of self-inflicted journey, and that we might also learn some interesting things along the way.