Let Your Unconscious Do the Writing for You

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Vision 77


Let Your Unconscious Do the Writing for You


Neil James Hudson

Copyright © 2014, Neil James Hudson, All Rights Reserved



If you’ve ever found yourself staring at a blank piece of paper, wondering why the words won’t come, you may be interested in the method given here. I learnt it from a workshop run by the singer-songwriter Tom Robinson, who had adapted it from Dorothea Brande’s 1934 book Becoming A Writer. All writers are different: no method of working will be right for everyone, and the writer’s task is to find out which methods work for themselves. However I have personally found this method to be invaluable, and it may be useful to writers who are stuck, or just want to try something new to see if it works.

The first thing you will need to do is get up half an hour earlier than usual. If you can avoid disturbing a partner who has probably suffered enough already, there is no need even to get out of bed, but you need to get going as soon as possible, before you have started the day--before you’ve heard the news, read the paper, or checked the internet. The intention is that you work while you are in that state between waking and sleeping, while your unconscious mind still has a chance to influence your writing.

You then take the pen and paper that you will have left by your bed, and you start writing. You take as your starting point whatever’s in your mind--the dream you’ve just had, the feeling you woke up with, a character or incident in your current project, a memory or a daydream, anything at all. And you write as unconsciously as possible. Ideally, your pen should not stop moving. The aim is to fill the paper, not write great literature. No one other than you will ever read these words, and you’ll probably be discarding them before long anyway. And no, this doesn’t count towards any daily target you may already have.

I do recommend a pen and paper for this task, by the way. It seems to me that this is more likely to promote genuine communication with the unconscious, and those of us who can type faster than they can write may find that they’re going too fast for the ideas to flow. Besides which, if you fire up your laptop first thing in the morning, you’ll be on Facebook before you get to the end of your first sentence. As I’ve said though, you need to find what works for you.

When you’ve filled your piece of paper, put it away. Do not re-read it. You’ll be coming back to it, but not yet. I suggest leaving it for at least two weeks. You can now wake up and get on with your day.

Keep this up daily for two weeks, and then you can introduce the second part: your writing appointment. You choose a time during the day when you’ll be able to work undisturbed, and you stick to it, no matter who or what else is making claims on your time. And your starting point is the near-automatic writing you did two weeks ago. Much of it might seem gibberish, but was there anything of real value in it? It could be as little as a turn of phrase or an image, or you may have described an interesting place or person, even come up with a story or plot idea. Large chunks of text may be interesting as they are, or you may rescue only a single word. Whatever it is, mark the interesting stuff with a highlighter pen as you re-read it, then copy it. You can do this on a word processor if you want--your conscious mind is in charge now, and its task is to find what’s valuable amongst the morass of words that you generated while you were half-asleep.

When you’ve taken everything you can, recycle the paper. It’s done its job.

You will now find yourself building up a file of ideas, images and texts that you can use as a starting point. And now it’s time to work. How could that scene be expanded to a story? How could that image be used in a poem or a piece of descriptive writing? How you develop this material will depend on your own writing style. What matters is that you have a file of original ideas in front of you to get you started.

I would recommend that anyone who uses this method keeps it up for at least a month before judging how well it works: it may take a while for your unconscious mind to come through in your early-morning sessions. But I can only say that it’s worked for me many times in the past. I’ve published stories whose first pages are almost exactly what I scrawled down one morning without thinking. I’ve also successfully used it as a problem-solving method: after months of not seeing how to fix a stalled novel, I found that the answer just fell out of my pen one morning while I was writing random notes about the character.

As always, the answer is to find what works for you, and I hope you have as much success with this method as I have.

Becoming A Writer - Dorothea Brande Macmillan ISBN 0 333 65377 7