Guest Post With Michael Sussman

Writing From Your Unconscious

One way to approach writing fiction is to let your unconscious mind lead the way.

This is not to denigrate the conscious mind. It is a critical component of the writing process, especially once you’ve completed a first draft and must begin reworking and polishing your material.

But I have found that when it comes to generating that first draft, it pays to let your conscious mind take a backseat and allow the subterranean realms of your mind full sway.

My favorite quote on this issue is from Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Robert Olen Butler: “Please get out of the habit of saying that you’ve got an idea for a short story. Art does not come from ideas. Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white-hot center of you.” 

So how do you access your unconscious? For some, this comes naturally. Others, like me, must coax the muse out of hiding. This is best done, in my experience, by entering into the twilight state between waking and dreaming. Walking, jogging, communing with Nature, taking a hot bath, daydreaming, self-hypnosis, and meditating can all help. So can writing down your dreams or practicing lucid dreaming.

I often begin with an image, or even a title, and let my mind play around with it. Many writers prefer to work from an outline, but I find that too constricting. I like to let my imagination take flight, trusting that a good story will emerge. Writing my novel, Crashing Eden, I often started a new chapter with little or no idea where the story was heading next. That kept me interested, as if I were the reader!

In the words of E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime and Billy Bathgate: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

So, when working on a first draft, try to let your writing flow, unimpeded by conscious judgment or analysis. You’ll write a deeper, more genuine story if you allow your unconscious mind to guide the way.

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