a really good bucket

In the process of listening to interviews with Jennifer Egan and Elizabeth Strout, I’ve been pondering the roll of the unconscious in writing and art making.

Both Strout and Egan talk about how writing flows from someplace beyond the conscious mind. Speaking about her 2019 novel, Olive, Again, Strout says the famous character appeared to her after a ten year absence: “What drew me back to Olive Kitteridge was the real surprise of having her show up. Right out of the blue, she just showed up again…I realized, I’d better go with this.”

A theatre director I knew used to say, “Go to grad school and learn everything you can, but then throw all of it away.” It took me a long time to understand he meant you can’t be consciously focused on the technicalities of the work. What you’ve learned must become second nature, allowing all the unconscious parts to seep through.

And seep is what the unconscious does.

Both authors discuss how this process can take years of writing, shaping, and rewriting, as if the unconscious mind is a leaky faucet and the writer must collect water a single drip at a time. It’s a process that requires inhumane patience and determination.

The trick is, you need a really good bucket.