Monday, 3 October 2011

The creative unconscious in writing

In my book on writing, The Writers Little Book with Big Ideas, I talk about the different stages of writing and the importance of the stage I label, Pause.

At the moment I'm taking my own advice, trying to let my unconscious sort out some snags in the plot of the crime book I'm writing.  I'm two drafts in and by and large I'm happy with the outline of the story but having finished the second draft just before I went to Scarborough it gave me a space to let ideas start to emerge.

Oddly something occurred to me as I was listening to one of the sets.  All the players were excellent, well regarded in the jazz field and the sound was beautiful; a flautist took centre stage.  But it didn't move me; I felt no connection and wondered why.  I was about to write it off as me with cloth ears and then... we had an encore.

A superb saxophonist was added to the mix, and that sharp, at times dissonant sound ignited the music.  Totally different dynamic in the group and I felt the emotional tug of the music.  Fascinating.

Returning to the novel draft last week, some thoughts surfaced and I started the What If questioning. 

What if that character didn't or did know this?
What if they missed something happening by a whisker - you know the kind of thing, going down one street rather than another.

And then the ideas for the 'dissonance' became more solid.  I had this image of a horse jumping competition where some deceptively simple obstacles were the most difficult?

I've still got to write the new bits but I can see the way now.  Thanks to the creative unconscious prodding me.

Last week at a networking event I met two people who had started books.  Without trying to put them off, I wanted to say, the start's the easy bit!  But both theirs were non-fiction and I do believe those are easier in creating a structure to follow.

Over the summer I've been to quite a few author events and the bottom line is, there is no perfect, one size fits all approach to writing fiction.  Depends on your temperament and your experience.  The more you do, the more you learn.

As with all activities, the only way to gain experience is to do it.  Build muscle, whether it's physiotherapy exercises(which I'm undergoing at present) or writing.

Not sure what is the writing equivalent of the squat but that's the one causing me aching legs at the moment. 


  1. I’ve often used weight training to explain writing. No one can do either all the time. They may want to but after a while the activity becomes counterproductive. Before you start weight training you need to take in food and digest that food before you start to exercise and, after you’ve completed your sets for the day, you need to rest before repeating the exercise and, if you’re training daily, it’s recommended that you don’t do the same group of muscles two days in a row (at least that’s the way I did it). And so with writing. You need ideas, your need to process those ideas, then you write about them and then you stop. Next time you read over what you’ve written, think about what you’ve written, rewrite as necessary and then rest. Okay, that caricatures the process but that’s how I think about it. Writing is not just writing. It is a part of a much bigger process that has to give the unconscious its place. I’ve been reading a lot about boredom and intuition of late and I’m starting to appreciate just how much work our brains do when we’re not consciously working. We know our brain does all the mundane stuff like making sure we keep breathing and that but apparently an awful lot of higher brain activity also takes place behind the scenes that we, the conscious we that is, is not in control of.

  2. Thanks for your comments Jim. As always, they're pertinent and helpful. I might take issue with you about the brain keeping us breathing being mundane though!

    In my writing I'm trusting my intuition more even when the promptings don't make any logical sense to me. There's so much swirling around in the ether that it's hard to work out why something comes up. I'm a great listener of conversations on buses, which I use a lot, and in cafes. Probably I should be more organised in keeping notes than I am at present.