I wrote the first draft of The Book of Formation just after waking. It’s a technique I learned through meditation and lucid dreaming, and one I’ve found useful. The idea is that the proximity to the unconscious sleep state allows you, for a brief moment, to stand on the bridge between the underworld and the waking world.
If you meditate this way, trance is easier to achieve. You don’t have to contend with all the pesky, petty, mundane thoughts of the active mind. You can just gently rest on the precipice of wakefulness.
If you use this method to recall your dreams, you can remember the content and the feeling of dreams with greater specificity. But you have to be quick about it. Any thought or movement or external stimulus pushes the dream away, so you have to remain still and begin to document your memories immediately.
The writing process I used is similar. Once awake, you have to start writing. It’s best if you just sit in bed and keep a pen and pencil within arm’s reach. Don’t look at your phone or eat a snack or speak to anyone or anticipate the activities of the day. Just start. Try to write faster than you can think. And don’t edit yourself as you go. That will only stir your discursive mind.
For me, this process helped to dim my nagging sensitivity to language. I bypassed all the awarenesses I had carefully developed through schooling and living and discipline, and arrived at a manner of writing that I couldn’t have conjured with my working mind.
Language can be a hindrance at times. It’s such a culturally dependent medium. It requires knowledge and context and all sorts of associations that accrete over a lifetime. This makes it distinct from images (art) and sound (music), which can be experienced by anyone, at any age, and can more easily point to primal, global sorts of urges.
Images (not words) are the language of the unconscious. In a dream, trying to write or read is near impossible. The letters smear. The pen doesn’t work properly. Even speaking is a struggle, because in the underground, words are not welcome.
And yet this is where so much art originates. We live a third of our lives there. It’s the setting for a third of all human knowledge and experience. So it would be a shame if we didn’t try to have a relationship with it.
In The Book of Formation, the voice of Masha was born in this place. I wrote him half-asleep. He is a human pulled from the chaotic unconscious and placed into a prolix culture. He strains to communicate. He’s a newborn baby.
As expected, the words I produced in this state were utter nonsense, and a month of unedited unconscious-dumping did not make for a readable book. But within that mess, I discovered a whole personality.
After I finished this draft—the foundation—I took a break from the material. I went on tour playing music. I made visual art. I allowed my mind to utterly forget what I had written and let my attachments to the book cool.
When I returned to it, I spent several years working on the raw substance I had mined in that period. I polished it and combed through hundreds of pages of source material until I found a story, a vocabulary, and an entire system of thought waiting to be interpreted.