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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tip #12 For Fiction Writers: Writing with the Unconscious; How to Cook our story.

Want to Know the Truth?

Tip #12:  Writing with the Unconscious; How to cook our story. 

Peter Gilboy

 We can’t write without using the subconscious. Our very idea for the story came from somewhere. Where? And even if we do plan the story, are the actual words we type planned ahead of time?  Or do they somehow arrive as we sit there?  Where did they come from?

 Think of it this way.  You have an idea. It comes suddenly, Where did it come from? Did you say to yourself, “Now I’m going to have a great idea?”  Or did it just, somehow, come on its own?

 The subconscious is well known to psychologists and depth psychology. They know we can’t force the subconscious because . . well . . . because it’s not conscious; we're not even aware of it during our day.

But psychologists also know that things can bubble up in us. From my own experience, I know that if something isn’t bubbling up for me, then maybe what I’m writing is just another 
version of Law and Order, or some sitcom, or something else wholly ordinary.

The unconscious is not ordinary.

Many author recommend against over-planning our story.  Get a direction yes, but if we plan it all out, not only is there no surprise for us but mostly likely no surprise for our reader either. They can see the climax coming.  Our readers are always trying to anticipate the next development in our story, see ahead of us, all the way to the conclusion. Their minds are racing forward to find the possible endings before we show the ending to them. 

He said he didn't do it.
In other words, our readers are calculating. If all we do is calculate too, there’s no surprise for either of us. It’s ordinary. It’s unsatisfying to the reader.

Again: The unconscious is not ordinary.

POINT:  Resist over-planning.  Resist rushing forward. Wait. Let the story dwell in us. Let’s cook each chapter, let it simmer there. Chances are if we push ahead, our scenes and dialogues will be right off some TV show. That’s not good enough. 

So wait. Stew. Go for a run. Take a bath. Take a nap. But always take a pad and pencil or a tape recorder with you. Some of the best ideas arrive at odd times. We can’t control when.

Listen to what bubbles up. Trust it. For now, at least. 

Consider this: That our story is already there, somewhere, and we don’t have to make it up. We have to discover it. We have to discover what’s waiting there for us.  And let the unconscious find it.

Homework: So when we’re stuck, or trying to decide on the next scene, don’t fight it. Don’t force it. Let's remember that we’re not totally in control of our story. If we were in total control, it would be just another TV drama. We want our story to be different.

Before starting a chapter, why not go for a run, or undertake some other solitary diversion? Keep the story in the back of the mind, somewhere right there on the border of consciousness. Let it cook there. See what happens. Get deeper in the story. Live it. We’re one of the characters. What is he or she thinking? What is he or she going to do NOW.

That’s the same place the great works of art came from.  The great novels. The great novels weren’t wholly planned beforehand, chapter by chapter, spelled out character by character. They rose up from inside the artist.  

That’s why we should also be reading top-notch novels. Watching top-notch films. View top-notch art. Avoiding TV. Avoiding typical romance and detective stories. We want something different. We want something better.  

Ordinary doesn’t cut it.  Choose to be different.

Happy Writing

Peter Gilboy is a former ditch digger, short order cook, bartender, truck driver, soldier, counselor and academic.  He has been in jail only once. Peter almost always takes his meds.  
His website is    You can contact him at

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