So you might start by writing down every single thing you remember from your first few years in school. Start with kindergarten. Try to get the words and memories down as they occur to you. Don’t worry if what you write is no good, because no one is going to see it.
Move on to first grade, to second, to third. Who were your teachers, your classmates? What did you wear? Who and what were you jealous of? Now branch out a little. Did your family take vacations during those years? Get these down on paper. Do you remember how much more presentable everyone else’s family looked? Do you remember how when you’d be floating around in an inner tube on a river, your own family would have lost that little cap that screws over the airflow valve, so every time you got in and out of the inner tube, you’d scratch new welts in your thighs? And how other families never lost the caps?
“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”
You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin by rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind – a scene, a locale, a character, whatever – and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right at this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be cancelled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you are working, and you say yeah, because you are.