The White-hot Center of the Unconscious – Margaret Duarte

The ideal time to write is first thing in the morning, says Robert Olen Butler in his book, From Where You Dream. Why? Because that’s when you’re closest to “The Zone.”

“The Zone,” he says, is the white-hot center of the unconscious, the birthplace of art.

It’s where the analytic flow of your brain stops and your total attention is on the moment-to-moment sensual flow of experience from the unconscious.

The White-hot Center of the UnconsciousAccording to Butler, the theologians have their dogma, the philosophers their theories, the scientists their scientific principles, and the psychoanalysts their Jungian or Freudian insights, but the artist selects from sensual moment-to-moment experience, picking out bits and pieces of it, reshaping it, recombining it into an object that a reader in turn encounters as if it were experience itself.

The primary point of contact for the reader is going to be an emotional one, and because emotions reside and are experienced in the senses, they are best expressed in fiction through the senses.

Butler states that emotions are experienced and therefore expressed in fiction in five ways:

  1.  A sensual reaction inside our body (temperature, heartbeat, muscle reaction, neural change).

  2.  A sensual response that sends signals outside our body (posture, gesture, facial expression, tone of voice, etc.).

  3. Flashes of the past, not as ideas or analyses, but little vivid bursts of waking dream (images, sense impressions).

  4. Flashes of the future, something we desire or fear or otherwise anticipate (images, bursts of waking dream).

  5. Sensual selectivity. In the moment, only a small number of sensual clues impinge on our consciousness (Our emotions make the selection).

You’ll know if you’re writing from your head instead of the flow state or dream state if your story is full of abstraction, generalization, summary, analysis, and interpretation.

In order to write good fiction, you must get into “The Zone,” and in From Where You Dream, Robert Butler shows you how. A few of his suggestions include: write first thing in the morning, write every day, and write a sense-based journal.

(For journal writing exercises to get you into the zone, try Brian Kiteley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany)

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10 thoughts on “The White-hot Center of the Unconscious – Margaret Duarte

  1. Jenna Newell Hiott says:

    Great information, Margaret! I’m going to check out the book. I usually journal first thing in the morning, from “the zone”, but I don’t start writing fiction until I’ve had my coffee, fed the cats, visited with my husband, etc. I think I’ll try it the other way around tomorrow and see how it goes.

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    • margaretduarte says:

      Hi Jenna. Either way works. I find my way into “the zone” during my 3-mile walks. Especially during the last mile. I carry index cards and a pencil in my fanny pack to write down the almost miraculous ideas that come to me when I let go and give my unconcious a chance to work its way into my conscious.

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  2. Paul DeBlassie III says:

    Margaret, You wrote straight from the white-hot center of the unconscious. You know, Jung wrote that when it comes to the miracle of the living soul set your theories aside and enter into the moment. So we can dovetail from that, as you so wonderfully did, and set our headstuff aside when it comes to the miracle of the living word! Thank you for your post.

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    • margaretduarte says:

      It’s so good to know that you were inspired by my post about the white-hot center of the unconscious. I, too, find the subject inspiring. Yes, “setting the headstuff aside when it comes to the miracle of the living word”. Thanks for your encouraging commemt.

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  3. Lukman Clark says:

    White hot center? Seems like another overdone, over-hyped trope in the action vs. description advice to young writers columns. What really matters is pacing and if one learned anything in composition class it is that ideas, narrative, description can be as engaging as movement through the sensory world. It is all neural in the end and the head is editor-in-chief of the flow of inputs. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the unconscious. That would be like burning down my own house.

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  4. Jodine Turner says:

    “You’ll know if you’re writing from your head instead of the flow state or dream state if your story is full of abstraction, generalization, summary, analysis, and interpretation.” This is so true, Margaret. I’ve worked on this to hone my craft.

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  5. Rea Nolan Martin says:

    My white hot center appears and reappears all day long and in the middle of the night. It also surprises me sometimes when I’m at the computer! This is lucky, since I’m more of an afternoon writer, though I take plenty of notes in the morning. Will check the book out, Margaret! Thanks for posting!

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  6. margaretduarte says:

    Yes, you’re lucky to have your white hot center appear and reappear all day long. That’s probably one of the reasons your books are so good. “From Where You Dream” was published in 2006, but some books always remain relevant. It’s well worth the read.

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