Dreaming The Creative Compass

Untaming the world and allowing the differences between people and between streets and houses to be felt and acknowledged mark the growth of an artist.

                                                -Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, The Viewpoints Book

Sierra-Dan-Trampoline

Dan on DREAM:

Our writing book, like all my projects, began with a sticky idea, one that transformed unexpectedly before it germinated and grew. From the beginning, I had a title in mind — “Writing Your Way,” to acknowledge that there was no single right approach the work — but not much else. All books eventually insist on titles; some titles, like this one, demand books.

Throughout those years, I thought of the project as my own. So, perhaps it was natural that, even as I began talking with my daughter Sierra about collaborating, I simultaneously waded into a draft that carried forward my initial solo impulse. What emerged was a memoir, organized in chronological, autobiographical order, describing each book I’d written and what I’d learned along the way.

I might have committed to this original draft. But it would have meant winding up the collaboration before it had even begun, asking Sierra to serve as an editor and not a coauthor, choosing what was comfortable and familiar over what was challenging.

Instead — and the book itself has given me the language to explain my own actions — I forced myself to recognize that what we call drafting is only dreaming until we know precisely where we’re headed. Returning to the blank page that made us equals, Sierra conceived a structure for what would be a very different book. Later in the process, we could and would incorporate ideas from my original draft, she assured me.

And so I let her pull me out of one dream and into another.

Sierra on DREAM:

As my dad’s and my collaboration began, I knew his process to be more intuitive than analytical — he never outlined. In direct contrast, I thought of myself as a ‘writer who outlines’ (even though I’d largely stopped doing so years before).

Writing together meant either figuring out how to merge our minds — call it California dreaming — or starting with an outline, all the more so because we’d decided that we would try to sell our book to a publisher as a proposal and not a finished manuscript. Before we could confidently set out to write anything, we knew that we had to agree on a common vision, the heart of any collaboration.

In other words, we needed to talk about ideas before we talked about (or in) prose.

Doing so made so much sense and worked so well from the start that it immediately revealed itself as a cornerstone of the book’s philosophy: We had to dream before we could draft.

There is something almost Zen about writing a writing book. How you actually do what you do must remain consistent with what you recommend. That’s one internal check. My dad’s and my contrasting approaches offered another check. I drew upon his and my own intuitive ideas and organized them into the structure required by a proposal, most prominently the list of named sections and chapters.

Years earlier, in a college creative writing class, I’d realized that my writing only flowed after I’d “found the frame” for a piece, as I put it then. For our still untitled collaboration, the early table of contents became that frame. It turns out that a few key pages can make a book real in more than one way.

Read the next post in the series.

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