An experiment that led to an idea that led to a question.

I opened my head and let the words spill out. Into a tape recorder, during a wide-awake evening visited by no special muses. Hmmmm.

I often use the tape recorder for late-night visitations of phrase or plot or character. I am often found with my head bent over my desk, trying to catch some flitting thought with the butterfly net of my microphone. I have recited long, outlined sequences to get my head around their slippery substance. But opening the heart and letting fly, never.

Have I unearthed a viable technique? Riffing a scene without plan or forethought…then transcribing those notes into Word as the literal bones of the chapter?

Throwing and idea off the top of one’s head, to learn later whether it is real and writeable—a scary thing.

There are several asks in the task, I think; several requirements. The writer/reciter must be fearless. Like dreams written down in half-sleep, what is revealed in daylight may well be complete crap. Listening to what is spoken live and unconsidered is terrifying stuff.

To pull off this impossible feat, I think that one must be in love with the sound of one’s own voice. To hear one’s self cough up garbage, one must grow a thick skin. To listen to crap—as enthusiastic and well-intentioned as it might be—is to court shame. One must face down one’s own capacity for bullshit and stupidity; must be fearless in the very real possibility that we will discover how absolutely ordinary our brains are. Great notions aren’t always great—even if we convince ourselves that they are.

Perhaps the value of the exercise is in the exercise itself, rather than in what the exercise reveals. The on-your-toes of it. The open Chakras of it. The no-fear of it. And, of course, the off-chance that something surprisingly good will come of it; that we will indeed see some tiny brilliance that we struggle so hard to believe is alive in us.

Riffing, live. Fear and love. At the same time. The endless and essential challenge of being a writer.

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