Sometimes I can write a page of words without them meaning anything. It’s a problem (or blessing) that arose from the take-no-prisoner’s writing style I used as a kid: I must write a story, no time for thinking. Sentences would drop out of the sky with fully-formed stories behind them. The fully-formed stories would turn into my story. But since I hadn’t written a story yet, since I only had one page of words in front of me, it was meaningless, all nonsense.
Sentences like “she walked through mud without caring about the time that she had been dragged through it.” Sentences like “she believed in the worst of times.” Sentences like “she lived in tribes, she ate in a cafeteria.” Nonsense sentences like these all mean something to me when I write them down, the same way dreams make sense when you are in them. Then you wake up and you remember that there was a whole story behind that part of the dream you can remember. Then you try to tell somebody about the dream and it all falls apart. That wasn’t real. I dreamt that.
I taught myself to write by writing non-writing, by writing fake prose. I did a first draft of a novel this way and got a nasty shock when I revisited page one. But having gone through that unconscious writing phase where everything and anything meant something and should be written down let me get to where I am now: with a novel that’s actually a story. The holes are filled in and sentences are now used intentionally.
(photo from West Island Gazette)
Then a few nights ago (fake prose is always written at night) I lay down (fake prose is always written on one’s back, with a computer up against the knees) and hammered out a two page story that I’m sure isn’t a real story. I have yet to read it again, but I know it contains sentences of the aforementioned kind, where things are suggested and things are interesting, but they’re coming from a place inside my head that isn’t really me.
If it’s not really my thinking process coming up with the prose, then the writing process becomes an interesting one. It means that I am interpreter, rather than a composer. It means I’m looking for meaning in language rather than trying to use language to expose meaning. It acknowledges the notion that stories fall out of somewhere complete unto themselves and that it’s the writer’s job to mine them. And since that’s what I believe about stories, then I’m happy that I write in a way that can deliver them.
I hope that when I think I’m writing fake prose I’m really writing magical prose. We all know I’m just writing bad prose and trying to pass it off as something else, but there is something undeniably magical about a first draft, before the words realize where they are.