Dear Making Comics Class,
I thought of you today while reading this essay by Madison Smartt Bell. The subject is creative writing but what he says applies to the process of drawing.
We talked about the self-conscious feeling we get while drawing in public. I wonder if there might be a clue in what he’s written here.
"I remembered something the novelist Andrew Lytle had told me about the process of composition. The first step and for him I believe the most important: "You put yourself apart from yourself, and you enter the imaginary world."
From “Narrative Design: A Structural Approach for Apprentice Writers
By Madison Smartt Bell
[Here he’s comparing how we get into the state of creative concentration to how we get into a form hypnosis.]
The first thing I noticed was how well that induction narrative succeeded in the task that you try and try to get beginning writing students to achieve: that is, to make a convincing address to all five senses. Literarily speaking, the induction narrative didn’t do much of anything else (it wasn’t supposed to) but it did this one thing extremely well. It created what George Garrett calls a sensuously affective texture, a sculptural surface that, so far as the mind’s experience of it was concerned, was virtually indistinguishable from reality. And the purpose for hypnosis was much the same as it would be for writing: to convince the subject/reader of the visual/ auditory/ tactile reality of what was being described. For the hypnotist it was very important to win this conviction at some location below the level of ordinary work-a-day left-brain awareness. It occurred to me then that the process of imagining a work to be written (as well, perhaps, as the process of reading it) might also require a similar kind of “deepening.”
Because after all, that sense of bifurcation, slow division of the consciousness, was really quite familiar. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Yes, I had been there before. Often. At my desk, for three or four hours every day.
Then I remembered something the novelist Andrew Lytle had told me about the process of composition. The first step and for him I believe the most important: “You put yourself apart from yourself, and you enter the imaginary world.”
You put yourself apart from yourself…. If he had set out to describe the initial stages of hypnosis, he couldn’t have done a better job. That state of being slightly out of yourself… detachment… obliviousness, as the people who are trying to get your attention may irritably describe it…. isn’t it familiar?
I remembered a photograph I had once seen of a friend of mine, a woman writer, caught behind her typewriter and clearly in the midst of deep concentration. She was a beautiful woman, but not in this picture. In a fundamental way she had ceased to be physically present at that moment. She had withdrawn so profoundly into the recesses of her imagination that her features had actually lost their form.
I remembered all the time I had spent in my childhood, day-dreaming— out to lunch, as they say. When it got good, I would often talk to myself quite audibly (to the dismay of my classmates). I have since partially broken myself of this habit— I still talk to myself (plenty) but I have quit moving my lips. And as for day-dreaming… when you get right down to it, day-dreaming is my vocation. You put yourself apart from yourself and you enter the imaginary world.
Then I recognized that the process of imagination that underlies creative writing, what happens as or just before you are putting the words down on the page, must inevitably involve a process of autohypnosis. Not that the practitioner would be likely to call it that. You could be doing it without knowing that you were. Most likely you would never have heard of hypnosis, certainly not in such an application. You might call it meditation. You might not call it anything. But you would sure enough be doing it, any time you worked successfully, happily and well.