This is an article that I wrote for the RWAustralia newsletter a few months ago and it’s a topic that I’m deeply interested in so I thought I’d post it here.
Confession time. I was meant to write this article earlier this year to coincide with the release of my latest YA book, Demonosity. Unfortunately, the more I thought about it, the harder it became to write. It was made worse by the fact that I’ve spent most of this year not doing any writing at all. Not from lack of trying. On the contrary, I’ve plotted and started more books than I care to count but no matter how much I liked them, I just didn’t feel them. And if I’m honest, it’s been like this ever since I sold my first book eight years ago.
The strange thing is that before I sold, writing was effortless. Enjoyable. It didn’t even occur to me not to write. But these days I seem to have a multitude of excuses. Deadlines, revisions, sales figures, publication expectations, the changing market place. But deep down I knew that none of these could really explain why writing books had become so difficult. My only conclusion was that I had some kind of block but despite trying my hardest, I had no idea of how to unblock it. That is until I tuned into an online interview with Dr Bruce Lipton, an author and biologist who specializes in epigenetics.
In the interview Dr Lipton discussed the conscious and subconscious mind and suddenly I had the answer to the question that had eluded me for so long. According to Dr Lipton the conscious mind is where we keep all of our hopes, dreams and desires and it’s a creative force. It also has the ability to move forward and backward in time, which is why someone can discuss what they’ll be doing next week, even though it hasn’t happened yet.
Meanwhile our subconscious mind isn’t creative it’s habitual and it helps us with tasks like walking. It stores the information we need and gives it back to us like a tape recorder. He also went onto say that most of the things in our subconscious are learnt by the time we’re seven and that it cannot move backward or forward, it’s always stuck in the present.
The thing that really stood out to me was that because our conscious creative mind is often going backward and forward in time, it’s not always present and paying attention and so for ninety-five percent of the time we end up using our subconscious mind.
The second thing Dr Lipton talked about was the honeymoon period (which is very pertinent to us as romance writers). He asked listeners to think about that period in their lives when they were in love and how happy they felt. How positive they were and how in tune they were to life and to their partner. He said the reason for these heightened and powerful emotions was because both people were operating nearly fully in their conscious mind and the reason that the honeymoon can sometimes seem like it’s over is because when a person returns to their regular life their conscious mind once again goes wandering and they rely on their habitual subconscious mind.
By the time the interview had finished I was overcome with a powerful conclusion. The reason I’d struggled with my writing ever since I first sold a book was because I’d moved out of the honeymoon period and into real life. In other words I’d moved out of my conscious mind, creative, desire-filled mind and back in my subconscious mind. The mind that was formed when I was still a child.
It was like I had left the building and an untrained person was taking care of my business.
The thing I loved the best about this interview was that it gave me a very simple, clear-cut solution. I didn’t need therapy all I needed to do was use my conscious mind more than my subconscious mind by making sure it stayed in the present instead of wandering off all the time. Of course trying to undo the habits of a lifetime isn’t always easy and so this is very much a work in progress but some of the things I’ve started to explore are:
This is normally the sort of thing I avoid like the plague but desperate times call for desperate measures and so I’ve started meditating first thing in the morning and am surprised at how much calmer it makes me feel. Harlequin author Michelle Douglas recently considered meditation as a writing tool. “I did a 10-minute guided meditation a little while ago. It was lovely. And then not long after that I solved a plot-problem in the wip that had been worrying me. Am wondering if there could be a connection?”
2) Being Physically Present
This sounds nutty but I’ve found that taking my shoes off and standing in the grass or sand or water is a wonderful way to stay conscious. I’ve also started to sit in the garden with no shoes on when I’m handwriting. Harlequin author, Rachel Bailey says, “I rearrange my writing room often, because it becomes ‘stale’. With a new arrangement, I seem to become more alert and energetic, and the writing flows better.”
3) Putting Myself Out There.
I’m a hermit and normally avoid social activities as much as I can, but I’ve discovered that making myself get involved in things I’d normally avoid helps to keep my mind conscious and present (and on best behavior!). I think this is especially important for writers since we often tend to be watchers who observe from the sideline. Another way to put ourselves out there is to try a genre or topic change because it forces us to go into the unknown and stops us from falling back on our subconscious. Entangled author Sara Hantz did just this when she decided to go from writing YA books to Romantic Suspense. “I felt in need of a change so when the opportunity came up to write a romantic suspense I jumped at it, and have no regrets.”
4) Be Focused
I used to be proud of the way I multi-tasked but I’ve started to discover that instead of getting a lot done I just end up with small amounts of half-completed projects so I’ve started to give my entire focus to whatever I’m doing at the time. Double Golden Heart finalist Vanessa Barneveld does this by setting herself half hour writing periods. “I’m awake for about 18 hours a day, but still hard to find time to write. The day job has been sapping my time and creative strength lately. I now have a goal to write as much as I can in a 30-minute window. It’s less daunting than setting a goal of, say writing 1K a day. I tend to get distracted easily — a program called Freedom <http://macfreedom.com/> blocks me off the internet and away from work emails while I write.”
5) Have Fun
Deepak Chopra says that we always need to ask ourselves is it fun and will it help others. Now, I’m not going to go skydiving or do anything crazy but my challenge to myself to go with what makes me smile.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you do all or even any of these things but if you have been struggling with your writing or are feeling stuck, it’s definitely worth considering who is running the show—your conscious mind or your subconscious mind (the one that formed when you were still a child). And when you start to separate them out then you can begin to find your own ways to bring your creativity back into the present.