The subconscious. I’m not calling it witchcraft here, but if this were the Salem Witch Trials, the subconscious would definitely have some questions to answer. The most important one: does it weigh as much as a duck?
The subconscious is constantly hard at work, processing everything that happens to us, including those pesky parent issues (thank you, Freud). Sometimes, it offers up little glimmers of ideas, inspiration, and solutions, as well as the occasional Freudian slip that leaves you awkwardly standing in front of the cashier with a queue of people wondering whether you really just said that. Not speaking from personal experience or anything…
Your subconscious can be an amazing tool for your writing.
It’s a generator of ideas, whether this is while you’re at the gym (not me, I don’t gym), hanging up the washing, or brushing your teeth. Consider it the incubator for all your thoughts and experiences, where they can steep before those incredible “aha!” moments that get you writing.
So, how do we reap the benefits of our subconscious and those “aha!” moments? There are a number of tricks a writer can implement to take advantage of this amazing free resource.
Get some sleep
I might not be one to lecture on this, given I’m a functioning insomniac who gets up at about 3 am every day to work. But, someone much smarter than me, Thomas Edison, said “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
The idea that we might be able to make requests of our subconscious is pretty exciting, albeit not really practical. Imagine though, just lying back, drifting off into a deep sleep, and letting your mind do the work for you. I could get so much done in the four hours a night I actually reserve for sleep.
On average, humans are reported to have between 3 to 5 dreams a night, which is surprising, because mostly I just remember dreams of being chased by a T-Rex. But, let’s assume you’re luckier than me and remember one or two every few nights. Now, imagine, if you will, with those wonderful brains of yours, that you’re able to highjack them before they begin, so that they can help you work through a problem, fix a plot hole, or develop your characters.
So, before you go to sleep, think about your ‘request.’ Maybe it pans out, maybe it doesn’t. But, if you’re lucky, your subconscious might answer your prayers.
Keep a dream journal
I know. I sound like my mother. But, seriously, a dream journal is such a good way to gather new inspiration! Additionally, the more you work to recall dreams, the more you’ll program your brain to do so, until, eventually, you’ll find it’s not working anymore. You’ll remember all of them. Hey, maybe I’ll remember a dream in which I’m grazing on some nice leaves with a triceratops!
The best thing you can do is keep a notebook right next to your bed. That way, first thing when you wake up, you can jot down everything you remember. Worst comes to worst, it’s not for you and you get a new cute notebook out of it. Sign me up!
I’ve long struggled to come to terms with practicing mindfulness. Perhaps it’s the fact that it was forced down my throat as a child, but it never held any appeal to me. However, practicing mindfulness can help you in a multitude of ways. Not only is it a great way of decluttering your mind, but it allows you to access deeper thoughts and clarity.
Mindfulness does not need to mean meditation. It simply means being present in the moment and I think once I realized this I came to terms with mindfulness. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, reading, or simply lying on the couch practicing the humble art of the couch potato, simply allow yourself to be fully present.
I know it’s hard, believe me, as someone with ADHD I really struggle with mindfulness. It’s so tempting to just reach for your phone, fidget, or think about whatever random thoughts come to mind. Giving your mind a break, however, can ensure that when it comes back to the task of writing, your subconscious isn’t scrambling through a clutter of thoughts.
Listen to music
Do I really need to persuade you to do this? Whether it’s Florence and the Machine or Hootie and the Blowfish, I think we can all agree we love music. Okay, but what’s it got to do with my subconscious Jasmina?
I don’t usually listen to music when writing precisely because I find it can so heavily influence the direction of my writing. If I’m listening to an intensely sad song, you best believe we’re about to have a tear-jerker moment. However, because I know of music’s effectiveness, I can use it to my advantage.
Developing specific playlists for a certain piece or mood can be extremely helpful. For a sad scene, you can bet I’ll write listening to some orchestral or indie music. Fight scene, bring in the swelling cinematic scores. I have countless playlists for all my writing needs.
Music is inherently inspiring. So, when I’m feeling unsure of where to go with my writing but I have a feel of what I want to come next, I’ll spend a little while with my music on shuffle and do nothing else but listen.
I suppose, in a way, it’s another form of mindfulness. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love to pretend they’re in a dramatic scene from a movie when gazing out the car window and an emotional song comes on?
Something magical happens when you listen to music. It’s incredible the way music can coax a subconscious emotional response out of us, even when there are no lyrics. I’d highly recommend Ludovico Einaudi as a starting point if you’re looking for someone to encourage your writing. Not only is his music beautiful, but it evokes such strong surges of emotions from your subconscious that are bound to get you writing.
Get it down in a journal
Um, we already talked about journals.
Guys, you’re missing the big picture here: more pretty notebooks.
I have been known to juggle more notebooks than Joey Tribbiani did women and not just because I like the look of them (the notebooks, not the women). I have one everywhere. My desk, my bedside table, and all my different handbags (yes, I’m a handbag addict). I stopped short of keeping one in the bathroom.
See, ideas are fickle wee beasties and often come to us at the most inconvenient of times and places. One day, you’re staring at a blinking cursor for hours on end, unable to think of anything but burritos. So, you’re like, hey I’ll just take a quick shower. Then BAM. You’re covered in body wash, and there’s shampoo dripping into your eyes and mouth, but you’ve just had an amazing idea. Maybe we do need a bathroom journal.
Keeping a journal with you means you can scribble half-thoughts and inspiration whenever the temperamental volcano that is your subconscious decides to spew them out. And, often, when we’re writing something down that resonates with us, it can trigger a domino effect of ideas, until we’re unspooling a long thread of thought (sorry, lots of imagery there).
The mere act of writing an idea down and reading it back to ourselves can also help implant the idea more firmly into our minds, where our subconscious might gobble it up, mull it over, then spit it back out to us. Before you know it, you’ve written four five-hundred-page novels based on a half-baked thought you had whilst pouring a glass of juice.
Just be open…
The best thing you can do for your writing, whether it be through your subconscious or otherwise, is be receptive to the world around you. The more you take in, the more you have to work with when you sit down in front of a blank page. You never know what little treasures might be in store for you!
Jasmina is The Plottery's resident editor and an avid workaholic. Find out more about her and her editing services here.