Harnessing the Unconscious

If you already write fluently, for hours at a time, and you can write at will whenever you choose, you don’t need today’s idea.

However, if developing and then maintaining a daily writing schedule keeps eluding you, you’re in the right place.

This post describes the first type of accountability challenge for April.

Back to Basics

In Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande discusses two different writing practices necessary for you to be able to write fluently and at will. She even claims that if you repeatedly fail at these exercises, “you should give up writing and find something else to do because your resistance is greater than your desire to write.”

The first type of writing practice is early morning writing. It is writing done first thing upon rising (other than using a restroom and letting your dog out. I also make instant cocoa to drink while I write.) To do this writing practice, if you already work a day job, you’ll have to get up a bit earlier or forego some morning ritual like reading your newspaper or watching the news.

The Elusive Unconscious

We create best in a dreamy, half-conscious reverie state that is hard to come by during our busy days. This exercise helps you “train” your unconscious to flow toward writing (instead of something else). As Brande says, “the first step toward being a writer is to hitch your unconscious mind to your writing arm.” This exercise is to help you make that automatic connection so that later you can do this on demand.

If you’re skeptical, that’s okay. I was too. But this simple exercise done daily helped me thirty years ago to become a writer. And returning to this exercise at various times in my career has helped me get unstuck after some major life transitions. Approach the idea with an open mind.

Here are Brande’s instructions:

“Just as soon as you can—and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before—begin to write. Write anything that comes into your head.”

That can be last night’s dream, any decision you’re wrestling with, your prayers, anything at all. Just be sure to start writing before you have read anything.

You can use a notebook, sit in bed or in an easy chair, type at your desk, or anywhere you’re comfortable. Write as long as you have free time, or until you feel that you have utterly written yourself out.

Benefits of Early Morning Writing

As Brande points out, “what you are actually doing is training yourself, in the twilight zone between sleep and the full waking state, simply to write… Realize that no one need ever see what you are writing.” Do not judge your writing. In fact, for now, don’t even go back and read it. Just write.

Within a short time, you will find the task of writing no longer a strain. It will be second nature to put words on paper or screen as soon as you’re awake. Remember, it’s the habit of writing we’re working on here. The quality of writing doesn’t matter at all. Save your early morning writing though. Later you may go back and find some good ideas there you can develop.

After you’ve done early morning writing for a week or two, begin to push yourself a bit. When you feel written out, make yourself write one more sentence, or maybe two. A week later make yourself write one more paragraph. This gradual stretching will help you eventually write for many more hours (comfortably and without strain) than you presently can.

Getting Ready for the Challenge

If you want to try the “early morning writing” accountability challenge in April, begin now to think about fitting it into your schedule. Consider what you can give up in your morning ritual to make time for this. Think about going to bed half an hour earlier so you can get up earlier.

Warn the people you live with about this change, if needed. Choose a place where you can be alone and relax during your writing time. (When my children were babies, I snuck into the bathroom and wrote by the night light. My eyesight was better then!)

Be determined. Be creative. Plan ahead. And get ready!

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16 Responses to Harnessing the Unconscious

  1. Audrey McLaughlin says:

    Kristi, are you talking about doing writing similar to the morning pages discussed in Julie Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way? There is a part of me that feels as if I am “wasting” time when I write without writing about or for a specific project. I know that this is not true…but I struggle with it none the less. Help me out with this if you can. Thanks, Audrey

    • kwpadmin says:

      Yes, I would say it is very much like Morning Pages, in that it is first thing in the morning and it’s a place you can dump stuff or plan your day or pray or whatever. But if you don’t have trouble sitting down and getting right into your writing, this might not be the challenge for you. You may like the one I will discuss on Tuesday better. I have done Morning Pages over the years, off and on, but not continually. But if you have trouble getting started writing, it is a great way to prime the pump and get the feel for writing with ease and turning to writing almost without thinking. And I do seem to come up with some good ideas early in the morning when I’m half asleep…kind of like that dreamy state in the shower!

      • Audrey McLaughlin says:

        Thanks for your explanation…I like the thought of priming my writing “pump”. Maybe I need to try it out and just let it happen. I think I’m trying too hard to control where my writing is going instead of writing and letting it take me where it wants to go!
        Again, thanks

        • kwpadmin says:

          You sound like me! (The controlling the writing part.) I remember hearing a famous writer speak one time, and she said, “You know those writers who talk about the characters coming to life and taking over and doing things not in the outline and saying unexpected things? Well, not MY characters. They do what I tell them to do!” I laughed and guiltily knew I was that breed myself. Oh well!

  2. Shweta says:

    Early morning writing is one of those habits I have that I do so well at for a few weeks, then for a few more weeks it just … disappears. I let the thread of that habit go. The good thing is I’m able to pick it up again. I need to get rid of this patchiness! I agree with the power of early morning writing … like you I go for a hot drink as I write, it’s the nicest thing to sip hot chocolate in between paragraphs you type out before moving on to the day itself. :)

    It’s amazing how much your mind can produce in that bleary-eyed state. Training the self in half-awake state towards writing – definitely a boon. So much can get done in the morning this way, not even in adding to your main project but in way of generating new ideas and therein getting new projects started, I’ve found by accident. But they’re always happy accidents! So realising this and reading your post and generally talking up the benefits of early morning writing (which currently I’m out of the habit of *blush*), makes me want to participate in this exercise. I will do it. I will. I really will. (I’m not a morning person but I will!) And I’ll take your tip and start right now before April, to get into the rhythm of the habit. Thanks for the impetus, Kristi!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Shweta, we are so on the same wavelength. As much as I enjoy the early morning writing, I kick myself when I stop and then don’t start again. It really gets me into the flow for the day. I’ll give instructions next week about how to join the challenge! :-)

  3. Deanna says:

    Yes, I will try this!

  4. Morning writing is usually the only writing I EVER accomplish at this point in my life. That “give up writing and find something else to do because your resistance is greater than your desire to write” bit hits all too close to home, and there are days when morning writing doesn’t happen, either, mostly having to do with needy children (even writing this comment has already been interrupted by needy children).

    But it HAS gotten to the point where my most common reoccurring dream element is me trying to write down in my journal everything that’s happening in the dream while it’s happening! And every time I’m SURE that, THIS time, whatever I write will wake up with me so I don’t lose a single detail– maybe it helps me to remember the details a bit more than I otherwise would, but I still always get disappointed when I realize I’ve woken up and lost some really clever bits I KNEW I’d written in the dream.

    My dreaming is so closely linked to my writing: I started writing “books” as a kid because it was a way to tell the funny dreams I had had. I’m hoping getting back to my roots in this way will restart my creativity, but it’s been a slow, slow process, so right now pretty much all I’ve got is journals chronicling my dreams. But I think I have hope, deep down, because writing is also something that HAPPENS in my dreams frequently: I’m finding or carrying around old manuscripts of mine, or working on them, or trying to find them– and I identify myself to other people in a dream as “a writer” before anything else, whereas in real life I’m more inclined to say “librarian” or “mother” or “general nerd” before I say “writer” and when I do it’s something like “Struggling writer” or “wannabe writer” or “stalled and blocked writer.” It kind of makes me teary just thinking about it.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Rockinlibrarian, your post almost made ME cry too. I’ve never heard of someone dreaming of writing in their dreams and trying to remember their writing in their dreams! You have an active dream life, and I envy that. Unless I have a ripping nightmare, I don’t remember dreams. It is supposed to be a wealth of material! I hope the challenge in April will help you get restarted. I remember the needy children time. That’s partly why I hid in the bathroom using the nightlight to write. Otherwise, no matter how early I got up, they “sensed” the light on in the house somewhere and all eyes popped open! I have to admit, those were the toughest years for writing. Don’t give up just yet!

  5. I like this challenge, and I’m going to start working on it tomorrow to get myself in gear for April. My brain has a constantly scrolling to-do list, and by the time I sit down to write I’ve cluttered it up with so many daily life details, that it’s hard to get into the writing and stay there. I’m all for dedicating some morning time (I’m an early bird anyway) to something that will help me “make that automatic connection so that later [I] can do this on demand.” Onward!

  6. MizB says:

    Quote: {“give up writing and find something else to do because your resistance is greater than your desire to write”}

    … this seems like what I’ve been doing, as I KNOW my resistance is greater than my desire to write! LOL. It’s a struggle…

    Not all writing, though. I could easily do these “morning pages” where I just sit and journal stream-of-consciousness type stuff. I do that often, and have no trouble with it! I actually LOVE journalling. BUT… it’s when I have to sit down and write something that others will read where I struggle — where my resistance comes into play. I can write for myself, no problem at all. But, trying to write an article for an online magazine, or trying to start writing a book for publication? Oh-my-word, the struggle!!! It’s a literal FIGHT with myself to stay in my chair, and not find every excuse to go do something else!

    Sure, there’s the old adage, “Write the first draft for YOUR eyes only!” But, even that doesn’t work for me… I’ve tried, believe me! LOL.

    I just figure that maybe I’m not at the spot in my life, yet, where God wants me to write for other people. We’ll see.


  7. dana says:

    I’m very excited about this. I’m having trouble coming up with ideas and I think this is the answer. I have very vivid dreams and I may be able to pull some ideas from my dreams as well as other sources, such as prompts and ideas written in notebooks I’ve abandoned long ago.

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