This is another article that was written in response to the people who send me topics asking me to write for them. They wanted me to write about “a light bulb moment” in my writing:
When I was in graduate school, my professors really kept me studying. I was working on a masters in English, and I didn’t want to waste any time. I had two small children, and I was afraid if I spent too much time in school I would miss their growing up. I know that children are with us for just a short time, but I needed to go to graduate school because my family wanted to go overseas. My family needed me to get a good job and a good visa, so I had to have the correct education. My education led to a lot of unusual books, deep thinking, and even unusual behavior like writing in my sleep.
One semester, I was assigned thirty books to read, and I got them all read. I not only read thirty books, but wrote a short paper for every book as well as two large papers for each class. I seemed to be always either reading a book or on the computer writing. It was my first computer. It didn’t even have spell check because spell check didn’t exist yet, so I had to get really good at proofreading. As I read, I always looked up all the new words and wrote all over the margins of my books. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I took lists of words with me, and when I did the dishes or cooked, I propped the list up in the kitchen and looked at it so I could continue studying. At times, I went outside with my children as they played in the yard, and while they were playing around me, I was laying on a blanket on the grass reading a book. I never watched TV or wasted any time at all. I never just did one thing. With everything I did, I was studying. When it was time to eat, my fork was in one hand, and my book was in the other or my sandwich was in one hand and my book in the other. Other people probably thought I was the most boring person they ever met, but I was giving my brain an overtime workout. I wasn’t bored at all.
Graduate school not only took a lot of studying, but it also took a of thinking. I was assigned books by William Faulkner like “Absalom, Absalom” or “As I lay Dying.” If you haven’t read books like that, they don’t run like normal books. “As I lay Dying” is easiest to explain. Each chapter in that book has a name above it. It is the name of the person who is speaking and telling the story from their point of view. At one point, the mother is in a coffin, and the family has put her in a horse pulled wagon. They are crossing a river, and the coffin falls out of the wagon breaking the coffin open, and the mother’s body is floating in the river. At that point, one chapter is one sentence that is supposed to be the little boy. It says, “My mother is a fish.” William Faulkner writes some really odd books, and that is one of his easiest ones to understand. I actually wondered if I was every going to get “Absalom, Absalom” figured out. Everything was so intertwined and weaving back and forth that it took a real tax on my brain to write a paper about it. After we read these books, then I had to think out the assignment the professor had given us about the book, and come up with something good to write about the book.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Who is afraid of Virginia Wolf?” Well, Virginia Wolf wrote some of the books I read too. She wrote in a thing call “Stream of Consciousness.” She didn’t write like I am writing. She didn’t write like Hemingway who uses a lot of conversations to tell his stories. She wrote people’s thoughts. It was really hard to sort the thoughts out, but we had to do it in order to understand the books. “Stream of Consciousness'” is considered a “point of view.” With every “point of view,” there is a different style of writing. Sometimes you get what everyone in the story says, does, and thinks. Sometimes you get just what they said and did. Sometimes you get just the thoughts of one person and get to see the story unfold just from the eyes of one person. Sometimes you see it unfolding from the eyes of everyone. These are all different points of view. At times, the time line is not from start to finish, but all over the map. That is one of the things that made some of William Faulkner’s books so taxing on the mind. Books like that were like having to put together a giant puzzle.
Besides point of view and complicated ways of writing books. There are different kinds symbols in books. Sometimes there is one symbol that stands for something else, and the author at times intentionally put it there, but you really don’t always know if it was intentional or not. You get metaphors, similes, metonymy, and several other kinds of comparisons. You have to be able to find them and figure them all out.
There are so many things those professor had me thinking about. After I read the books, I had to analyze them. I had to form a theory about them, and then write about them. One professor said the only right and wrong is whether or not your theory can be supported by what is in the book. I had to site passages and use logic to help the reader understand that what I said was true. There were times that I even proved things from a book or a poem that I didn’t believe, but it was in the book or poem. I usually got A’s and A+’s on all my papers because they liked what I had to say. At one point, I wrote a paper on a poem and proved all kinds of nonsense. I got an A+ on the paper, and the comment from the teacher said I got the A+ because what I had written wasn’t true, and he and I both knew it wasn’t true, but I had proven it. That is how hard I had to think. It is like being a lawyer. A good lawyer can prove things that are not particularly true because he picks up enough clues and presents them in the right way to convince everyone it must be true.
Getting a masters in English just flat makes you think extremely deep. Teachers would give me assignments to write about things, and I just didn’t know what to write sometimes. I had to do a lot of thinking to know what to write about. As I said, first, I had to read the often very unusual books they assigned, I had to understand them no matter how crazily they were written, I had to come up with a theory that I could say about the book, and then I had to prove everything I said. This took an overload of thinking. I would go around for days just thinking while I was still doing other things trying to figure out what a good topic was and how I was going to put my paper together.
At times, I would go to bed at night not sure what I was going to write about and dream about the book and what I needed to write about it. Often, when I did that, I woke up in the morning, and my brain had it all worked out. I knew what to write about, and I knew how to present it with all the proof and logic. There were times, I went to bed thinking and woke up in the middle of the night with a wonderful idea, but it was the middle of the night, so I would go back to bed thinking I would write about it tomorrow, but somehow, I would have forgotten what I was thinking in the night and had to continue thinking. This is what made me learn not to put anything off when I had a good idea. I began waking up in the middle of the night with a great inspiration of an idea, yes my brain had worked it all out in my sleep. I would even have the complete outline and all the details, quotations, and everything in my head, so I would get up right then, go to the computer, and write my paper right then and there. Some of my best papers were written in the middle of thing night after my brain worked it out as I slept. I discovered that I did my best thinking while I was asleep. I was writing in my sleep and getting A+’s on papers.