Wednesday, September 12

The Role Of The Unconscious In Writing

The Role Of The Unconscious In Writing
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, Philippines

Have you ever had a song looping through your head that just wouldn't go away? Have you ever broken down and played the darn thing and listened to the lyrics?

That's what happened to me today. A catchy fragment of a tune I hadn't heard, or even thought of, in years began looping through my mind. I'd think it was gone and then I'd find myself singing the blasted thing! Finally I broke down and listened to the song on YouTube.

I was stunned. Something has been going on in my life and it was as though the lyrics--which I no longer consciously remembered--were lecturing me. This got me to thinking about the role of the unconscious in writing.

In Write Away, Elizabeth George shares the following:
When I'm on to the right story, the right location, the right situation, the right theme, my body tells me. I feel a surge of excitement in my solar plexus that literally sends the message Yes yes yes! to my brain. Until I feel that surge of inner excitement, I remain in the pre-plotting stage simply because I have nothing to plot about." (p 47-8) (The Role of the Subconscious in Writing Fiction)
In his essay It All Began With a Picture ... (published in Of Other Worlds) C.S. Lewis tells how his The Chronicles of Narnia series began with a picture:
[The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe] all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it.'
. . . .
At first I had very little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time. Apart from that, I don't know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there, he pulled the whole story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him. (Wikipedia, The Chronicles of Narnia)
I want to begin a dream journal and write down what I remember of my dreams each morning. I'm interested in how the simple act of trying to remember my dreams would affect my writing.

Other articles you might be interested in:
- Writing Resources
- Book Promotion: Where's The Line?
- Becoming An Organizational Genius: The Tickler File

Photo credit: Paul Chin


  1. I have had that same experience with song lyrics. It's all still in there, isn't it? Maybe that experience teaches us to listen to ourselves. In terms of writing I guess the lesson is to let the story flow and not worry about where it comes from. Great post, thank you.

    1. I agree! It's amazing how easy it is to tune myself out. When it comes to both my life in general and my writing in particular I need to play closer attention to my still small voice. As is true for a lot of writers, I tend to get ideas in the shower or doing other 'mindless' activities. I think meditation, etc., allows us ... and by 'us' I mean 'me' ;) ... to get out of the way.

      Thanks for your comment! :)


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