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S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tapping Your Subconscious

This is what my conscious mind thinks that it looks like.
(Thank you to Dierdra for the lovely award!)

My brain works like this: bits of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and impressions are constantly being fed into it, then every once in a while, the amorphous cloud of junk in my head coalesces into a singular IDEA, usually with an ACTION nipping at its heels.

To say that it's MY idea feels presumptuous; I regularly tell people that I steal all my best ideas from others. But I think this is how writing works: bits and pieces taken from the fabric of our lives and stitched together into something new (either patchwork quilt, or if we're very lucky, Frankenstein).

The bits that formed my newest IDEA:

  1. Fall 2009: The brain spark for my Mindjack series came to me while I was in bed, in that half-asleep state while you try to settle your brain and drift off into unconsciousness (this happened long ago, but I'm often reminded of it, because in interviews people ask me where the idea came from).
  2. Summer 2011: While on vacation, I read an article about how we store information in our unconscious mind, which led me to believe that intuition was our own personal superpower.
  3. Early 2012: Some random blog post talked about how we waste the best minutes/hours of the day (supposedly the early ones, when we're fresh), by checking email and blogging (*raises hand* guilty).
  4. April 2012: I read a book called The Power of Habit that talked more about our subconscious and how studies show that we literally "turn off" sections of our minds when habit takes over, and that learned abilities are stored in a different part of brains, untapped until called upon. It's like the brain knows how to be efficient with its resources, or something crazy scientific like that.
  5. May 2012: I set some personal goals with regards to my writing (I'm always doing this, especially when I start a new book): first, boost my creativity (with regards to my storytelling, but also everything I do, because I believe creativity is a muscle that grows stronger with use), and second, bring more "beauty" to my writing (not so far as aspiring to be a literary writer, but take a step closer to the craft level of Holly Black, who I greatly admire).
  6. June 2012: I'm reading Ray Bradbury's The Zen in the Art of Writing, prompted by his unfortunate passing and his reputation as a prolific short story writer. I've recently embarked on a short story blitz, reading shorts, studying the craft, all in preparation of writing some of my own. Although I love Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man, I hadn't read much (read: any) of Bradbury's shorts. What I discovered was that Bradbury was an exceptionally literary writer (gasp!). But more importantly, as he talks about in Zen, he believed strongly that his subconscious mind (or Muse, or Divine Inspiration, or what-have-you) was the source of all his stories. Bradbury believed that creativity was more a matter of tapping into this source of knowledge buried within us, rather than forcing it through a conscious act.
Let me just state for the record, that Bradbury is more pookie-pookie mystical than I would have ever guessed, which is a shock when he is an author I've held in high regard for almost my entire life, and I'm not so much a fan of mysticism (sorry, I'm an engineer; it's practically part of my DNA). In fact, this was enough of a shock to jar loose an IDEA, with an ACTION not far behind.

IDEA: Tap into my subconscious as a way to boost creativity and get in touch with my inner wordsmith.

ACTION: Spend the first 15 minutes when I wake up, when I'm still hooked into my subconscious because I'm still half-awake, free writing in a journal every morning.

RESULT: Oh my ... wow. This works for me in a major way. I don't censor myself. I don't write with a purpose or topic. Half the time, I'm typing with my eyes closed, so I don't even know if the words are legible on the screen. I ramble. I come up with ideas that feel like they've been bubbling below the surface for a long time, and now they've been vented free, spilling like an ugly yet fascinating lava flow all over the page. This isn't the normal free writing I've done in the past, which always had a purpose: trying to discover a character or a plot twist. This is just ... pure thinking on the page. And let me tell you: it's addictive. And even without purpose, it is serving the purpose. The ideas: they are gushing and roiling within me. And my inner wordsmith has been let loose ("siren-calling me from the future" and "stiff with expectation" and "wring out the emotions from me in drops") - and that was just the first day. 

Can you tell that my conscious mind is terrified of this process? 

There is great irony here, as well. Bradbury talks about using his literary short stories to "legitimize" his science fiction to serious publishers like Collier's, who would normally look down their noses at the "pulp" that he wrote (Bradbury wrote pulp! I knew he was my hero). The irony that it was Bradbury's credentials in SF that brought me to his more literary leanings and mystical process is not lost on me.

The man may have known what he was talking about after all.

Will this help you? I don't know. But it seemed too powerful a secret to keep.


  1. Life's ironies are always amazing me, and I'm trying to accept that randomness has a system--one I'm not privy to . . . not yet.

    I found the inside information about how your subconscious works interesting, but even more fascinating to me was that you could reconstruct how you'd come to the final project. Makes me want to go back and set down my progress from spark to finish.

    1. Wait, you mean everyone doesn’t keep track of every little bit of information?? LOL Seriously, I’m not always that cognizant of the genesis of an idea, but in this case, it really was like pieces fitting together. And I remembered a few more once I had to write it down. It helps being prodded by interview questions that ask innocent, yet maddeningly difficult questions like, Where do your ideas come from?

  2. Love the freewriting idea--anything to help conquer the inner editor. My subconscious mind is a wild and wooly place that IE is afraid of, but all my freshest ideas have come roaring out of it.

    Now, if someone could tell me how to get these two to be friends, I'd really be happy.

    1. The book I’m reading now, Short Fiction by Damon Knight, talks a bit about the “conversation” your conscious and subconscious have with regards to a story. I’m not sure how to get them to get along, though! :)

  3. I read The Zen early on in my writing career and I've always used my subconscious mind to create the stories. I know enough about the brain to know we process millions of tidbits of info subconsciously, and only a bit of it comes into the conscious mind. So I know when I write everything I need to complete a story is in my brain somewhere. Loved all of Ray's work. My favorite was All Summer in a Day. (Kris Asselin's fave too!) Brilliant... oh, and The Veldt was another doozie. Happy Writing Sue!

    1. How cool that you already “get” all of this – I think I needed time to figure all this out. I think we can’t, generally speaking, learn things before we’re ready to hear them, and now was the time for me to finally “hear” this. Thanks for sharing! Now I need to go read Veldt and All Summer in a Day… 

  4. Interesting! Glad I found this blog! I'm only a wanna-be writer, but your timeline resonated with me. I've said for years that I don't think I have a novel in me, until something pinged and I remembered a little story that I wrote 5 years ago and I figured out that I could hang a novel on it. Meh. We'll see...

  5. Those two images just say it all, don't they. ^_^

    I tend to do the major part of my writing at night. Though, part of that might be linked to it being pratically the only time I get to be alone in the house. >_>
    It's good for drafts, not so much for editing.

    1. I have a hard time writing at night, because I’m plain worn out by then! But I think whenever you can steal the bits of time, you have to make it work. Good on you!

  6. Susan, this is such a cool idea! I can see how this opens up our creativity, because yes, I definitely have more ideas when I'm about to go to sleep, or just waking up.

    1. Me too, and somehow I never put the connection together to WRITE during that time! LOL

  7. I loved reading about your process. So neat! The way you used ACTION when you first woke up really hit a cord with me. Summertime is a great time for me to try that. I just might. ;D

  8. This is all kinds of interesting to me. I am a huge fan of Bradbury too and while Star Wars and Star Trek occupy the showier parts of my SF love, Bradbury's stories were always the strong foundation. NaNoWriMo, once I get in the grove gets me into a wonderful sort of zen creativity, but I've been meaning to try the just waking up exercise too.

  9. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful article! I enjoyed it immensely!
    I am going to give it a shot and let you know what happen. What I currently do is to meditate and visualize. I have to say that these two things have greatly helped me :)