By Carrie Conner
What The Subconscious is to every other man,
in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.
– Ray Bradbury
Who can forget the chilling scene in the movie The Shining, when Wendy flips through reams of paper to discover her husband’s novel contains the endless repetition of one innocent adage, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
It turns out, Jack was right. Like those epiphanies that come to us in the shower, the most creative ideas emerge when we silence the conscious “thinker.”
Albert Einstein had some of his greatest flashes of inspiration while playing the piano. Suzanne Collins conjured The Hunger Games while channel surfing in bed. The plot for Misery sprang from a nightmare Steven King had while flying on the Concord.
When we work at trying to solve a problem, we automatically default to the conscious mind. However, the conscious mind only registers what we experience in the present moment – the chair we are sitting on, the bee bumping against the window or a rumbling belly.
Accessing the subconscious or unconscious is like striking the creative gold mine. The subconscious is our brain’s Girl Friday. Our thoughts, feelings, ideas and dreams might be found filed away in the vast storehouse of the subconscious. The problem is, the subconscious mind has the ultimate form of job security, as it is the only one who knows the filing system.
“Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different,” opined William James (brother of novelist Henry James), the American philosopher and psychologist who first coined the phrase “stream of consciousness.”
To sneak by the gatekeeper of the conscious we have to do essentially nothing – nothing that grabs the attention of the brain’s command center, that is. Tapping into the unconscious is that feeling of freedom we find when we are “in the zone.” Time, to-do lists and our surroundings disappear in this space. To the subconscious mind, they do not exist.
Stream of consciousness writing is one of the best ways to coax the subconscious out of hiding.
Technically, stream of consciousness is a literary device used by poets and novelists at the beginning of the 20th century to put readers inside the heads of their characters – authors William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying), Virginia Wolf (Mrs. Dalloway), and James Joyce (Ulysses), to name a few.
Contemporary writers such as Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and Jack Kerouac (On the Road) use stream of consciousness to create raw, intimate character portraits and story plots.
We are going to use a looser definition of the term stream of consciousness. Let’s call it an unedited, free-flow of thought with no rules.
Grab a pen and paper (there is something about the physicalness of writing by hand that is not as linear as typing on a keyboard). Now, think about what you or your character wants more than anything in this world. Let yourself feel the sharp edges of wanting with every cell in your body. Set a timer for 20 minutes and start writing as fast as you can. Writing faster than your conscious mind can catch on helps keep your inner editor at bay. Do not worry about punctuation, grammar or capitalizing. Do not cross out anything. Do not worry if you think none of it makes sense or if you go off topic. Just keep writing. If the timer goes off and you are on a roll, keep writing. You can even keep writing until you run out of words.
When you are done, read it aloud. Circle or highlight the words, sentences or patterns you like. If you are working on fiction or non-fiction, turn it into dialogue by adding some he/she saids. You may find your character with insight or motivation you never dreamed of. If you are writing poetry, pick from the gems of your subconscious.
The more we play at writing, the more eager our subconscious will be to come out and play with us.
“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity,” said, Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. ”The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”
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An Invitation from VoiceCatcher
Willing to share what this prompt inspires you to write? Each month we might publish some responses to the VoiceCatcher prompts. Contact us to submit the writing the prompt elicits from you.
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A friend once asked Carrie Conner why she writes. “Because I have to,” she said. “You mean like publish or perish?” he asked. “No,” she said, “It’s more like … breathing.” Carrie has spent 20 years as a staff and features journalist and freelance copywriter for a variety of publications and companies. One day, while interviewing an emerging novelist about her new book release, she realized she was done writing about other people’s accomplishments. She is currently putting together a yet-untitled collection of short stories and a screenplay.