Writing at the Speed of the Unconscious

Writing at the Speed of the Unconscious

Create September 13, 2013 / By Kate Arms-Roberts
Writing at the Speed of the Unconscious

Writing faster than you think possible can unleash creativity and prevent writer's block.

What The Subconscious is to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse. ~ Ray Bradbury

Subconscious or unconscious mental processes harbour treasure for writers. Our brains store the facts we have absorbed from living in the world even if we are not sure how to access them. The images and passions that fill our dreams are the stuff that makes our writing rich, if only we can connect with them.

Our conscious minds have integrated social messages about appropriateness, safety, and quality of craftsmanship. If the conscious mind is allowed too much control, especially in the early stages of a project, a writer's work suffers. Images are not specific, metaphors become cliched or superficial, emotional truths and hard realities are avoided, and the work fails to live up to its potential.

Later, when a first draft is being crafted into a well-told story or the strongest possible argument, writers use the conscious mind to engage in analysis and conscious craftsmanship. But at the beginning, those critical faculties cause more problems than they solve.

The Unconscious Mind is Fast

Getting the unconscious to work on a problem in the background often benefits from slow, calm, repetitive activities: taking a shower, walking, sleeping, driving, washing the dishes, or folding laundry. Keeping the unconscious mind in charge becomes more difficult as one moves from rumination on a creative idea to production of a creative product. Some would-be writers never get past the blank page, facing the classic manifestation of writer's block.

Productive writers develop practices and tricks to silence their internal editors and get their heavy-handed conscious minds out of the way during the creation of first drafts.

The unconscious mind is fast. The conscious mind is slower.

Many writing techniques or exercises exploit that difference in speed. These techniques all share the goal of writing so fast that the conscious mind cannot catch up and break in with critical comments. For example, Julia Cameron prescribes a daily practice of Morning Pages, 3 pages of rapid, stream of conscious writing done first thing in the morning, keeping the pen moving at all times and never going back to edit. Natalie Goldberg recommends timed writing exercises at any time of the day, but also focuses on continually writing and not allowing yourself to make changes in the writing of the first draft. What they both have in common is the focus on writing fast without making changes.

Physically Experience The Speed of The Unconscious 

Understanding that the unconscious mind is faster than the conscious mind on an intellectual level is enough to convince some people to try a new, faster way of creating, but others need to experience the reality for themselves before they believe it enough to trust it.

Here is a simple exercise for experiencing the speed of the unconscious mind, derived from an InterPlay exercise done with a partner.

  1.  Place a hand somewhere on your body.

  2.  Change how your hand is touching your body.

  3.  Change the position again.

  4.  Change the position again.

  5.  For 10 seconds, rapidly change the position of your hand touching your body. Move so fast that you do not have time to decide what position you will move your hand to.

  6.  Come to stillness.

  7.  Take a few moments to allow the experience to sink in and be aware of whatever you are noticing.

By pushing our bodies to move fast, we force the conscious mind to yield to the unconscious mind. Moving faster than the conscious mind reminds us that our experience is bigger than our conscious mind and allows us to tap into that greater experience.

Once we are aware, we can make choices based on our awareness.

As a writer, it is in your best interest to tap into your unconscious mind, to get beyond your conscious habits of thought, and let your unconscious mind enrich your work with the details and wonder that lies silently within us all.

If you haven't already, try writing faster than you can think or at least faster than you can edit. See how your writing changes.

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