Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Gate Keeper

It is only through your conscious mind that you can reach the subconscious. 
Your conscious mind is the porter at the door, the watchman at the gate. 
It is to the conscious mind that the subconscious looks for all its impressions
~ Robert Collier

My off days aren't really off days. I don't believe I know a writer who is ever "off". There are too many stories buzzing around the air, darting in and out of the imagination. The past weekend I labored long on putting an array of writing projects in some semblance of order. 

It worked.

No file cabinets, no nice, organized office space, just a binder of notebook paper and two days worth of deliberating, wheedling down plots and twists and discovering what story needs to be told and why and how.

It feels good to get things together. It also feels good to keep them together. For me, that's the challenge: once the schedule is in place, once the outline is constructed, there is a step that must be taken to WALK the schedule and BEGIN the tale. This is where, countless times over, I fail.

Our mind is a garden, a secret garden if you will, filled with all manner of plants and paths, benches and birdbaths. Some of us have well manicured formal gardens, you know the ones, well groomed topiaries in the shapes of birds and stegosauruses and flowers that ramble not over the golf-course grass and smooth pavers that lead through the box hedges.

There are others who till row after row of vegetables and fruits, labeling everything, nurturing every last plant-ling. Some have kitchen gardens: necessity only, while some cultivate rare species of auriculas, finding the time to cross pollinate and seed swap with other fanatics.

My mind tends toward a cottage garden, deliberately pouring over boundaries and mingling flower and herb and veg. A lovely vision, with rambling roses and ivy that climb clear to the top of the chimney of the thatched roof house. There's a charming gate with the figure of a cat cut out of the wood inviting passers by to take a peek but never, ever enter unless invited. There is a danger to this. Cottage Garden Minds tend to shun the weeding in order to enjoy the bees buzzing and harvesting the lavender in a late afternoon shower. While some weeds create happy accidents (unexpected violets or snatches of conversation that can be used for a future short story), they also choke out the plants that should be cultivated.

We are, believe it or not, in control of what we let into our minds. We are also in control of what we pluck loose and toss into the burn pile. We must train our conscious minds to do the unsavory task of pruning and weeding, gathering fallen branches and, yes, raking the fallen leaves. A little chaos is blissful - especially if you write speculative fiction - but when the self deprecation, the "who's going to care if I write at all", the "I suck" and the "why bother" tend to take root and spread like kudzu. Those thoughts choke and bind and will, if left unchallenged, kill the roses, the chocolate mint and the pomegranate your grandmother gave you six years ago.

Train your gatekeeper, writers. Train him to guard against negative thoughts and those rambling vines that lead nowhere but end over end over end. Learn to weed before they take root and learn, as painful as it can be, to prune those large, dripping vines (the thick ones, the ones that have dropped from tree and wedged deep into the fertile earth). 

Keep them out of the compost (those lovely thoughts you want to use at a later date, for a future story); burn them. Host a Bonfire of the Mind and invite all your artist friends. After the deadwood is gone, remember to tell your gatekeeper that he is to be ruthless to all who enter. Don't back down and don't shy away. Let him wield his flaming sword. Your mind is a gift worth protecting.


  1. And hope the gatekeeper finds the keymaster.
    I think I'm a weed as I go type of writer.

    1. Haha! Yes, there are days I lose the key altogether. I'm definitely a weed as I go writer 😊

  2. Lovely, Jen. I don't garden at all, but if I did, it would be wildflowers growing wildly all over the place.

  3. This post makes me wish that I lived in a house instead of an apartment building, so that I could have my own garden. I can't even have one of those window boxes, sighh...
    It can be hard to discipline myself to start writing; I think that getting started is the hardest part, because once I get into the "flow" of writing, it gets easier to keep writing.

  4. I'm going to buy you all the Round-Up and we'll keep those weeds at bay!

  5. Karen: I love wildflower gardens!! Especially when the person who sows the wildflowers balances the growing and the weeding, allowing the flowers their freedom and tenacity to shine without hindrance :)

    Neurotic: I've been there and it can be frustrating if, like me, you need to have your fingers in the dirt!! YES! Getting started is the hardest part. Establishing FLOW is the challenge for me too, but, as you said, once it's there it's so easy to keep going! Thanks for the reminder.

    Jon: Works for me! Round-up to the rescue!! xo


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Cheers! ~J