Your Conscious Or Subconscious – What To Use While Writing


It’s important to have conflict on every page.  And don’t forget to always drive the plot forward.  Make sure you’re always developing your characters.  Use tight sentences that convey a lot of information.  Write natural-sounding dialogue.  Build tension throughout the book and always increase the stakes.  Avoid the passive voice like the plague.  Be true to your characters’ personalities.  Give every person in the book a desire.  Reveal enough to interest the reader, but not so much that it ruins the intrigue.  Build sufficient credibility to suspend disbelief.  Make the reader empathize with the protagonist.

Okay, now close your eyes.

Do you remember every piece of advice you just read?

If you said yes: (1) I hate you, (2) go be a scientist or something.  If you’re like the rest of us, you probably can’t keep all of those things at the forefront of your mind at all times.  If we can’t remember all of them right after reading the list, how can we remember all of them while focusing on putting words to paper, crafting a story, or figuring out what your character will say or do next?

The short answer is that we can’t, which is okay.  And it’s important to understand why.

There are a ton of great books on the craft of writing out there (The Fire In Fiction, The First Five Pages, and many others), and they have plenty of useful advice.  Important advice that can be the difference between a bad story and a good one, or a good one and one that will be talked about for years to come.

I’ve listed some of this advice in previous posts, and doubtless you’ve read more than you could possibly remember from various books, magazines, and articles, but the most important question that comes out of reading such great advice is: how do you implement it in your own work going forward?  And I don’t just mean how to use it in your next writing session, or for the next week.  I mean how to make it a habit so that you can build upon your writing skills when you read the next piece of advice, and the next one, instead of simply replacing one new technique with another.

This is one of the more important questions you can ask about writing, because it’s about constantly getting better rather than implementing one specific tip, trick, or piece of advice in your writing.  It’s about implementing every specific tip, trick, or piece of advice (that works for you) in your writing.

If you ask me, the answer lies in moving these ideas from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind.  I’m not going to get all scientific on you, but it really seems that the only way to bring together the hundreds of small things that make a great story is to ingrain them so deeply in your habits that you naturally leverage them without having to hold them at the very front of your mind.  And this comes from two things: a constant desire to get better, and practice.  The first is about reading everything you can, noticing what works and what doesn’t, reading books on writing, reading articles, reading blogs, and talking to other writers, readers, and people.  The second is about going out there and writing consciously – finding something new and practicing it.  Just reading a tip ten times won’t help you absorb it and use it from now until your 80th birthday, but reading a technique and consciously practicing it just might.  If you’ve ever tried it before you know it’s true.

But it takes a lot of effort.  And even when you’ve mastered the craft, you can’t simply sit down and shoot gold out of your fingertips with your brain at half power.  Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that.  Even the greats have to put in 110% of their effort every time they sit down to write.  And even they don’t write stories in one draft.

So go out and keep reading, keep learning, keep practicing.  Never stop.  It’s the only way to internalize the basics so you can focus on the intermediate, to internalize the intermediate so you can focus on the advanced; to finally write the story you always knew you could.

It won’t happen on its own.

What about you?  How do you find ways to use the advice you read about writing?  How do you consistently apply it to your work year after year?  Do you agree with the above?  Disagree?  Only skimmed it so not really sure?

15 comments on “Your Conscious Or Subconscious – What To Use While Writing”

  1. You’re onto something with the subconscious thing, I think. Rather than trying to remember all those tips and tricks, it is important to learn when to spot something that doesn’t ring true, the same way one might hear a false note in a piece of music or taste too much salt in one’s soup. We can’t read something and know how to do it, we writers must culture ourselves, enhance our perception of prose.

    For inspiration when it feels like you’ll never be good enough, read the stuff you wrote a year ago — you’ll probably be amazed at how much you’ve improved.

    Great post.

  2. Most writing advice is subjective: it has to do with personal preference or what’s fashionable, so I stick to the 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing, remembering always that writing a book is not the same as weaving a basket.

  3. It’s good that you brought up this discussion, because you’re right, writing is HARD. And to my mind, it comes in layers. The earliest layers are snippets, notes, scenes, thoughts, pieces that may or may not tie together. Then there comes a flow of energy and imagination, and that’s when you get to the subconscious writing where the characters speak through you and you can’t type fast enough. Then…reality. You read it. Share it. People make comments. You find flaws. And you go back to rewrite, over and over and over again. This is the hardest place, where your consciousness has to guide you back to that wonderful, free, creative oasis where you will be able to improve on what you’ve already written. It’s a dance, and not everybody follows the steps or does it with grace. This is the part that separates those who must write from those who think they want to.

  4. For me, the easiest thing is to write organically, then go back and see what rules need to be applied where. It’s simply impossible to follow all of the rules all of the time, but a good intensive editing process will show us where we strayed to far off the path. And I’ve found that Beta Readers and Critique Partners are a critical part of the process. I know I get too close to my work, and others will see what I can’t see.

  5. You’re so right that practice is the key. When I learn something new (and have a AHA moment), I go back through my WIP and apply it. Sometimes that’s a lot of practice. Then when I start writing again, I’m much less likely to repeat the old habits.

  6. My son has a photographic memory. And to his disadvantage, he’s a sensitive man too. He doesn’t write pros but he does write poetry. The last thing in the world that he would want to be is a scientist.

  7. I think that you have to use advice to remember it – the same with anything that you learn. If you don’t put into practice what you’ve read/heard then you don’t remember. I also think repetition is key. The more you read something the more it sticks. And some things work for some people, but not for others. It’s about finding what works for you and your style of writing, and using the information time after time.

  8. Thank you David. I wake up, typically around 4am and need to write, to read, to practice. Not only has writing become part of my subconscious, it wakes me up and drives me out of bed!

  9. I liked everything you say here, and I did get the first para almost all at one go 🙂 So what! I still can’t go be a scientist. Re-blogged on Write & Beyond. Thank you!

  10. I read the first paragraph and it scared me to death. Oh no, I though, I’m not good enough to do that, and in truth, I’m not there — yet. I’m still in limbo as far as writing is concerned. I do my Postaday, sporadically now, since I’ve written about 400 blogs on it, but creativity is pretty illusive for me. I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t have an imagination. I’m a facts person, but of course, there are stories in that. I collect the facts until I’m “full up”, but then putting them down into a form that’s “compelling” — as interesting as I found the topic to be at the outset — is hard.

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