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Missing avatar By Alexandria LaFaye
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About this project

Have you ever heard a talk on being a "real" writer that left you with the feeling, "Well, that's not me. That's not how I write"? If so, then "The Primed Mind" may be just the book for you. It takes a subconscious approach to the art of writing by recognizing that all of the material we put on the page is drawn from our minds. In that case, it makes a lot of sense to train the mind to be more creative, productive, and knowledgeable about craft. Written in a conversational tone by a published novelist, "The Primed Mind" takes a craft approach to writing fiction that looks at the process of cultivating a writer's mind, learning the elements of fiction, critiquing, revising, and living the life of an author.

Back when Walt Whitman and Mark Twain published their seminal works, publishing in the US was done by subscription. Authors had to sell their books to individual subscribers before a publisher would print the book. With the current economy, we're almost to that stage again with independent publishers like Holy Cow Press (www.holycowpress.org) who published Natalie Goldberg's first collection of poetry. Unfortunately they

a) turned down "Writing Down the Bones" because they weren't sure if there was enough of a market for the book

b) have been forced, by the current economy, to halt their purchases of new titles.

This has caught me in a bind with my book "The Primed Mind." They're open to publishing the book if I subsidize the publication, but I can't afford it, so I'm going back to the subscription days and asking folks who are interest in purchasing the book to help me raise the funds to subsidize it's publication. The money pledged to this project is NOT collected until the full pledge goal is reached. Once the goal is met, the book would come out in about a year.

And who am I, you may be asking. Well, for starters, I'm a novelist. My first novel, The Year of the Sawdust Man, was favorably compared to To Kill A Mockingbird. I was stunned awed and grateful. I've published nine novels since then, in including the Scott O'Dell Award winning novel Worth. I'm also a visiting assistant professor in the low residency MFA programs at Hamline and Hollins Universities. For more information on me and my work, please visit my website at www.alafaye.com.

Testimonials for "The Primed Mind"

"Thank you for letting me read the chapter from what I hope will be a book. Our students could use this instruction. You write so fluently, your approach to the reader is so conversational, and your expression is so pleasant that I hardly notice as I read that my instruction is the object. I never heard the term "forms analysis" until you used it, so I'm glad to see here what you mean. Would you consider offering the unpublished book for sale to students?" --Jane Resh Thomas, Kate DiCamillo's writing coach. www.janereshthomas.com

An Introduction to "The Primed Mind" from "the Primed Mind"

First, a sneak peak at what you will find in each chapter:

Chapter 1: The Primed Mind: The Subconscious Approach to Writing Fiction

This chapter introduces the theory that the best writing can be done by embracing your own approach to writing and drawing on the wealth of knowledge in your subconscious. This involves “priming the mind” with an in-depth knowledge of the craft of writing, then entering your own writing zone to write from within. This approach moves away from the restrictive rule approach to writing and frees writers to find their own route by offering a unique approach to the art.

Chapter 2: Getting Into the Zone: The Subconscious as a Writing Zone

This chapter explores the subconscious theory of creativity and writing that should allow the writer to understand the mental processes that are involved in priming their mind and creating compelling fiction. It also gives writers tools to “clear the mechanism” and prepare their mind for creative production in a stress filled lifestyle.

Chapter 3: Don’t Do Anything While I’m Away: Characters Who Live Beyond the Page

The first craft based chapter, this one outlines the fundamentals of organic character development that takes a “method acting” approach to creating characters and calls on the writer to become the character in the composing process. To do so, writers need to know the ins and outs of human psychology and the major components of character development which are outlined in this chapter.

Chapter 4: Strictly Speaking: The Slant of Dialogue

Because dialogue is often the most misused element of fiction, I dedicated an entire chapter to learning how to write effective dialogue with double meaning, nuance, and revealing dialogue tags. It also examines some of the pitfalls of dialogue and how to avoid them.

Chapter 5: It’s All in the Details: Developing Double Duty Details

This chapter on details takes a unique approach to using sensory detail by asking authors to be sure that their details are working at maximum efficiency by building more than one literary element at a time. It also explores the concept of literary weight which has not been outlined or defined in other writing texts. The amount of space a description takes up in a piece needs to be equal to its importance in the text or its literary weight is out of balance.

Chapter 6: Batman and True Believers: A Revelation of Setting

Drawing on the parallels between movie set design and literary setting, this chapter takes an intentional, gradual, and partial approach to the development of setting. It also explores how double duty details are integral to the creation of setting that shapes the place, time period, character, and plot of a story.

Chapter 7: Plot Gardening: How to Make Your Plot Grow

Using a character driven approach to creating plot, this chapter draws on many of the principals of screenwriting to create plots that pull the reader in and show the characters’ struggle with central and intertwining conflicts that climax and then resolve as the characters grow and change.

Chapter 8: Time to Tell:The Use of Time in Fiction

Taking a new approach to the old adage “show don’t tell,” this chapter acknowledges that time is better seen as a continuum from telling to dramatization that involves a middle concept that hasn’t been previously defined: “dramatic telling.” Commonly employed in screenplay treatments and fiction, dramatic telling is a dramatic, concrete form of telling that gives the appearance of showing. This is actually the strongest connective tissue in fiction, but it’s never been directly discussed in a writing book before because it’s always been lumped in with the concept of showing. In this text, showing is called dramatization and refers to the full fledged scenes with exposition, dramatic telling, and dialogue.

Chapter 9: Once More With Conviction: Weaving Social Commentary into the Story

Taking a craft level look at how writers incorporate cultural messages into a text, this chapter looks at ways to avoid “agenda writing” in the construction of character, theme, and plot. The emphasis is on the organic integration of culture through the crafting of compelling characters who drive the plot rather than controlling the characters to convey a specific cultural message.

Chapter 10: Stepping Out of the Crowd: Creating a Unique Style that Makes Your Writing Stand Out

Many writers unfamiliar with genres and common plot patterns and character types create fiction that is “written in a crowd” of other texts with similar events and characters. Stepping out of the crowd usually requires a unique approach which is carried off through the style of the writer. The writer’s style is conveyed through their literary texture and their individual approach to character and plot development.

Chapter 11: Cracking the Codes: Learning the Tricks of the Trade

This chapter guides writers through the process of reading as a writer which is also known as “forms analysis.” If writers can analyze the literary forms of other writers then they can crack the code of those writers and learn how to achieve the same things in their own writing. This form of reading asks the writer to closely analyze the way different elements of writing are constructed on the page. Once they can take the “literary tricks” apart in this manner, writers can pull the tricks off in their own writing with their own style.

Chapter 12: “Killing Your Darlings:” The Cold Precision of Revision

Most writing texts focus on the composition process, but this book also explores reading, revising, and critiquing to take a more holistic approach to the writing process. This chapter outlines a recursive approach to revising that draws on the subconscious approach to writing and guides writers through the transition of revising to composing as they reread their previous work before beginning to write again. This approach creates more continuity and helps writers internalize revision into their writing. The chapter also looks at approaches to pure revising once a full draft is complete.

Chapter 13: Learning to Wield the Ax: The Art of Critiquing

Learning to critique the work of other writers is essential to developing a writer’s revision and editing skills, so this chapter explores how to establish and run a critique group and outlines a system of critiquing manuscripts using a common language that all members of the group can use and recognize. It also explores the ways in which a critique group can help you identify and improve upon the weaknesses in your own writing.

Chapter 14: So You Want to Be a Writer : The Lifestyle Commitment of the Art

In the spirit of the holistic approach to writing, this chapter looks at how writing can be a lifestyle as well as an avocation. This lifestyle approach can help the writer prime their subconscious and build the routine and commitment to establish and maintain a career as a writer.

Exercises and Glossary:

Getting the Hang of It: Writing Exercises to Work the Guidelines into Your Subconscious

The exercises included allow the reader of this book to apply what they’ve learned in their own writing and hone the skills described in each chapter. Using a three prong approach, each exercise focuses on one literary element and asks the writer to study, apply, and internalize each new element they learn. The study section asks them to analyze the element in the writing of other writers to take it apart and learn how it works (a forms analysis approach). They apply what they’ve learned from this exploration in the creation of their own material. The final stage of each exercise gives writers the tools to internalize what they’ve learned so that it comes out organically in their writing rather than being inserted consciously.

If I Had to Explain it in a Hurry, I’d Say . . . (AKA the Glossary)

The glossary defines the terms mentioned in the text. Each definition provides more depth and explanation than is used in the chapter in which it is first mentioned. The definitions also contain relevant cross references.


AND NOW for Chapter 1:

1
The Primed Mind:
The Subconscious Approach to Writing Fiction

When teachers introduce me during school talks, they often say, “Today we have the honor of meeting a real, live author.”

That starts me thinking, “You really should stop bringing the dead stuffed ones to school. That’s got to be a health risk.”

But what I’m actually wondering is what they mean by “real” in that sentence. I hear it echoing like the book world’s own version of the inner critic. To be a REAL author you MUST write every day. Write what you know. Write mainstream literary fiction. Any number of tidy little rules I don’t follow.

I’m not good with rules. I can’t even follow the simple rule of filling in an application one line at a time. I’m hopping from name to profession to the third to the last house I lived in because that’s the one with the house number on the porch railing so I always remember it. I’m pretty lousy at doing things the traditional way. While that puts a challenge into keeping organized, cleaning house, and following a routine a bit difficult, it makes writing quite adventurous.

Creativity is all about breaking the rules. One simple explanation of imagination is the recombination of known facts in unusual ways. Part of the reason that children can be so imaginative is that they don’t know the ordinary combinations for known facts. That’s why a two year old can point at a cow and say, “Doggie.” Or make a five course meal out of mud, acorns, leaves, and a good stick. A writer can take this naïve disregard for “the way things really are” and turn it into art. If they take the subconscious route to exploring their own creativity, they’ll discover a surprising level of freedom and depth. The reservoir of all of our known facts, the subconscious can supply endless literary material if we keep it well stocked and primed.

You’ve heard of priming the pump, well there’s a mental equivalent that can lead to a flow in fiction – the kind of writing that pours straight from your subconscious, free of editorial impurities and full of literary depth, lyrical details, and the kind of realism that keeps your reader asking, “Did this really happen?” The priming of the fictional mind requires you to read, think, write, and live like a writer. While you can probably take a thousand mental roads to this destination, this book explores one possible route to developing a primed mind.

This internal approach to the art of writing puts a new twist on the common approach to learning to write. When I read books on writing, I often come across rules that begin “To be a writer, you MUST . . .” and whatever comes next usually doesn’t apply to me. I don’t know why I should be surprised by the fact that I don’t approach writing in the “normal” fashion. Doing things in a traditional or routine fashion has never been my strong suit.

In kindergarten, I spent more time at the water fountain at the end of the hall chatting up the more worldly sixth graders than I did rehashing the basics with the boring kids in my classroom. In college, I designed my own degree in comparative colonial history. I spent many a visit to the doctor hearing the phrase, “This is not supposed to happen” to describe things like that extra bilateral brainwave I seemed to have picked up somewhere on the way. In fact, it appears that I spent a good deal of my time unintentionally avoiding the confines of normality.

My mother once asked me, “Do you do anything normally?” I replied, “I believe I breathe pretty much the same way as anyone else.” Then again, I have a few troubles with asthma, so maybe not.

It is pretty normal for me to take awhile to get to the point. And the point is that no writer can tell you how to write or what it takes to be a writer. It’s an individual thing like a personality type that’s specific to your approach to writing. Part of becoming a writer is discovering the type of writer you are and fulfilling the requirements of that approach to writing. It’s the literary equivalent of feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Being aware of what kind of writer you are allows you to learn how to improve things within your natural approach rather than trying to make yourself into something you’re not. The approach to writing I’d like to explore is what I call the “primed mind” approach. Similar to most approaches to writing, this subconscious method intersects with others in important and profitable ways, but the part of it I hope to emphasize is the importance of the subconscious in the writing process. The basics of the approach are this: you prime your subconscious to the point that when you sit down to write it flows organically from the characters you’ve created and the circumstances you’ve placed them in. You don’t need to write every day. In fact, giving your subconscious time to recharge, retool, and rework is often profitable. When you come back to writing, you may discover you have more material than you can write down in a night.

For me, writing is 20% preparation (putting information into the subconscious), 20% percolation (giving your subconscious time to work through the material, sort it out, and reform it in new ways), 40% precipitation (letting all the ideas flow from the subconscious onto the page), and 20% perspiration (revising the work that you’ve already completed to polish it for publication). This has been my approach to writing since I began composing novels in the sixth grade, but I didn’t fully become aware of my approach until I entered graduate school. That’s when a little reading into the theories of creativity allowed me to describe the mental process of this kind of writing to myself. Naming it and mapping it really helped me to understand my creative process and get the full potential out of the approach. This book maps out what I’ve learned.
While it works well for me, I wouldn’t recommend this route for everyone because each writer needs to find an individual path through the writing life. Still, this book explores elements of craft that surface in various approaches to writing fiction. My take may give more traditional writers a new viewpoint on old school rule-bound approaches to writing.

See nothing here as a hard set rule for writing. Writing isn’t so much about following the rules as it is about internalizing the guidelines and honing the craft so that you can get good enough to go outside them. Unfortunately, you have to learn them first, so what follows are all of the guidelines I’ve learned to apply in the primed mind approach to creative writing.

Every chapter explores a different aspect of writing, offering advice on how to approach each element. At the end of the book, you’ll find exercises that apply to each chapter. These exercises are based on a conscious approach to learning new skills, but what you learn in those exercises will help you internalize new elements of writing so that when you sit down to write, you’re drawing from the experience without being ruled by it. The conscious mind, the falsely benign harborer of the evil critic inside us all who remembers all of the rules and warns us that our characters are no good, or our plot is contrived, and our details are flat, has no place in the writing process until we’re ready to revise. To put the conscious mind into the “off” position, you must write from the subconscious. "Chapter Two: Getting Into the Zone: The Subconscious as a Writing Zone" explores a few of the compelling ways that can happen.

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