There was a time, not even all that long ago, when I felt I was a better writer when I didn't really know what I was doing.
I suspect I started becoming more conscious of it when I heard people talk about, say, the career of this musician or that novelist. "They made better music when they were stoned" seems like an analogue of the same sentiment. Likewise, when someone wrote books that didn't seem to proceed from any calculated plan, but emerged spontaneously and unguarded. Later, when they started to second-guess — whether because they were finally sober or because they were just becoming more self-conscious — their work suffered.
Debatable assertion, I know. Drugs are more often than not an impediment to creative work (you never hear all the takes they threw out because someone was too drunk to keep time), and self-awareness also includes being conscious of things that do need to be avoided. But rattling around somewhere inside this notion is a kernel of a true idea, and maybe I can get it to come out if I upend the whole thing.
At the center of every creative act is a creative impulse, and the impulse is not formed or guided by logic or a plan. It just says: Let us make this happen. It doesn't listen to advice, doesn't care about the implications of this choice or that element. It just goes as it must.
It all starts like this, and only over time, if ever, does that raw impulse become moderated by an understanding of the world it unfolds in. But just because it's moderated doesn't mean that its energy is dissipated. It's just being rechanneled in new ways.
The other grain of truth that comes to mind about this scenario is how too much self-consciousness smothers those first creative leaps. Peter Elbow was a big proponent of the idea that you need to practice unblocking yourself — that it's something you need to keep in shape, and that it's not just this instinct that pops out whenever you ask for it. It can become suppressed over time if you don't learn to stay out of its way. You need to give yourself permission to do things that are not necessarily going to add up or go anywhere, that are just a pure expression of your creative force. (In Elbow's case, the prescription was for daily free-writing.)
As we get more self-conscious about our work in some form, it's hard to appreciate where that self-consciousness takes root. It sometimes manifests in places we don't train ourselves to look, and it can put its roots down very deeply there. But if we train ourselves to look, and look fearlessly, it will be easier to say no to it, to let things out anyway.
One more thing that comes to mind is how we let things out changes over time, not always for the worse either. I have always been very picky about which ideas I choose to develop into a full-blown piece of work. For every book I've written from a given idea, there are at least fifty other ideas that never made it. Being selective has never been a problem for me, because the spigot of ideas has always been open and flowing. So when I wonder if there was a time earlier when I had less trouble coming up with stories, I suspect that's a kind of psychic myopia at work.
Things were not, in fact, better back when I didn't know what I was doing. I was just operating the best I could under the circumstances. Now circumstances are inevitably different, because I'm different.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind