Is writing fiction a state of mind?

I keep being amazed at how lost in my story I get while I’m writing. … And then at how confused I am about time and space when I stop for the day.

I am trying not to overthink this, fearful it might go poof! Last week at the gym, my trainer was putting me through a new workout. One of the moves was so strange, I found myself paralyzed, until he said “don’t overthink it.” And just like that, I got it.

A day or so later, I heard part of an interview with Dustin Hoffman on NPR. He was trying to explain how he gets into a role. Essentially, he does whatever research he needs, thinks about the character, then shows up. I can’t do this justice, but what he got around to was that, after some amount of thinking and overthinking, he just falls into it. He knows, and the director knows, when it’s real.

That got me thinking, not overthinking, but just musing about it. Is this what I’m experiencing when I’m with my character? I do extensive research, and I scribble a few key words in my notebook about where I want the story to go, and then I just write. I give myself over to my character; he takes me where he wants to go. He shows me things and makes things come together. I’m just typing.

I know this is not it exactly. It’s depends upon what happens unconsciously. It’s more than a dream, because I have invited the experience.

When Hoffman was having trouble getting his autistic character in “Rainman,” he found himself using “yeah” as a filler. He recalled that suddenly it felt right. It became a defining part of his portrayal of Raymond.

I also know that having this happen requires a great deal of work beforehand. I always wrote major term papers the night before they were due. But I had started the research, reading, and note-taking as soon as the assignment was given. Once I sat at the typewriter and got the first sentence down, the paper almost wrote itself.

This edge-of-the-precipice behavior continued through all my work as a teacher, writer, and editor. I had always felt as though I had gotten away with something, until I realized I could trust this process.

That’s why I feel that becoming a fiction writer is not about the actual writing. You are either good at using the language, or you’re not. If you can’t get in touch with your imagination — that part of your mind that willingly suspends disbelief — and then let it have its way, you may sit paralyzed at the keyboard.