Thursday, July 12, 2012

Self Awareness/Directed Awareness

by Bill Johnson
For people, self-awareness has many facets. People in general need brain power to filter out much of the information their senses collect. I think self-awareness for particular people can end up running in channels, so that we can quickly assign meaning and values to people and relationships in our lives and not get bogged down/drown in processing details. Relationships can also be symbolic, in the sense that a symbol can stand in for a relationship, a kind of short hand code.

The problem arises when a new writer doesn't realize their particular short hand code (a dark-haired woman with thick glasses could be a symbol for an abusive parent) doesn't evoke anything for a reader. The job of our brains to filter out details or shape our reality to a particular design can lead to a kind of neutered, thin writing that fails to ring true. Except for the person writing in their particular symbolic code.

Directed awareness, however, is a choice about where to focus awareness. Cynthia Whitcomb, the President of Willamette Writers, has had a long career as a successful screenwriter. When she began focusing more on writing plays, she read a play a day for a year. That was one way she assimilated a deeper understanding of what makes for a good play.

I find students in my screenwriting classes who don't like or watch movies. They simply want to imagine an idea of theirs turned into a Hollywood film, or imagine their life being turned into a major motion picture, with the money involved. I sometimes lose 50% to 70% of my students in a particular class. I suspect when I try and teach them directed awareness about storytelling -- consciously learning the craft -- they aren't ready for the work involved, or they come to realize the work involved.

About directed awareness versus intuition, recent brain scan studies have shown that once people have assimilated understanding (gained understanding about some facet of writing like plot, for example), when a problem arises, the subconscious can take that assimilated understanding of storytelling and find a solution to a particular plot problem. Then pop the answer in to the conscious mind.

Which some people interpret as intuition.

The catch is, the subconscious can only present that answer to the conscious mind when that mind is not preoccupied with a particular problem. Being preoccupied with a problem blocks the subconscious mind from accessing the conscious mind and providing an answer.

I go over this more in the latest version of my book, and reference some of these new scientific studies. I find it fascinating that brain scans give a more accurate representation of how the brain works and functions.

Many years ago I was in a state of deep meditation where I could see the flow of my subconscious thoughts/feelings/awareness welling up into my conscious mind; be aware of thoughts before they became conscious thoughts. Odd, enchanting process to observe.


A fifth edition of my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, is now available for $2.99 from Amazon Kindle.

Authors Road Interviews Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison is repeatedly described by book reviewers as “legendary,” often compared to Hemingway, Faulkner and other great American writers, and well known for the life he’s lived and the company he has kept over the decades of his prolific career.

Most Americans know him for the films he is responsible for: Legends of the Fall, Wolf, and Revenge are a few examples. But lovers of great literature know him best by his many books of poetry, novellas, novels, leading magazine articles, and his insightful memoir, Off to the Side.

We had the good fortune to meet with him, his lovely wife, and gentle dogs while we stayed in southern Arizona on our travels. Many days we’d gather for a sip and animated conversation at the town watering hole, The Wagon Wheel, a place featured in a few of Harrison’s stories, and a gathering ground for locals, other writers, truckers and bikers passing along the edge of the Mexican border. We quickly developed a sincere fondness for the man behind the written words, for his crusty honesty and penetrating intellect—and for his uncompromising zeal for life.

One afternoon, while Salli prepared a gourmet meal for this noted gourmand, I interviewed Jim in the backyard of his casita. We chatted about his background with writing and a slew of other views that seemed to bubble up during our conversation before dinner was served.

The dinner was great, but the conversation was what will remain longest with us, a few pieces of which we’ve tried to capture here for your enjoyment and learning. And I must add an apology for the inconsistent audio of this interview. My bad! Multitasking while sipping wine is not a skill I can claim with pride.