Tuesday, July 28, 2015

5 Six Ways to Unleash the Magic of Subconscious Writing

In the language of a recent Suits episode, I'm a "grinder" rather than a "rainmaker." Writing doesn't come easily for me, and I spend countless hours staring at sentences and rewriting them fourteen times, only to discover that the first version was probably the best. I add layers, and subplots, and symbolism, and connect the dots through sheer hard grunt work.

Sometimes I hate writing.

But then there are the rare flashes of brilliance that I swear don't come from me. The moments of magic when there's a muse on my shoulder. Or a miracle. Or all of the above. That's the part of writing that makes the rest worthwhile.

We all want more of those creative insights, but how do we get them?

Inevitably, those moments of magic show me a connection I didn't even see before, a theme or a plot point, or a motive that's suddenly just there, that's been there all along without my being aware of it.

Such creative breakthroughs are few and far between for me, but whenever they do happen, they make up for months of grueling drudgery. I had one just last week while I was on vacation. One minute, I was driving through Glacier National Park, watching the smoke from the forest fire, looking for bear and moose. The next moment, I discovered the meaning of the entire Heirs of Watson Island trilogy, the key to the relationship between two characters whose meaning I hadn't previously gleaned.

This kind of magic happens most often when I'm NOT staring at the computer screen. This is not a new epiphany for me, but it is one that I ignore too often. I fall into that pattern of butt-in-chair drudgery that comes with having deadlines. But the creative brain needs time to process, to make connections freely, to work that magic.

Science bears this out. When we're focused on a problem or work that we're doing, we are too busy noticing the trees to see the forest, or even more importantly, to see the vines that connect the trees and make the whole forest more unique and interesting. The big picture and how the small things are connected have been there all along, but our minds aren't paying attention until we relax and flood our brains with alpha waves.

To get creative, we need to relax and find our happy brains. Seriously. Don't laugh. Studies show that people who are happy do better at solving puzzles.

So how do we induce that happy relaxation?
  • Take a shower or a bath
  • Take a long walk or hop on the treadmill
  • Read a book or some blog posts about writing craft
  • Spring for a relaxing massage and let your brain drift
  • Go for a long drive somewhere that doesn't require you to deal with turns or traffic
  • Lay in bed an extra twenty minutes and let your mind drift
In the end, it doesn't matter quite as much how you get into that relaxed and happy state as it matters what you do when you get there. There are two absolute requirements:
  • Keep a notepad or a phone with a dictation program with you. The connections and flashes of inspiration are fleeting.
  • Don't make yourself to think about anything specific. Your brain will go where you direct it, and you'll risk missing out on the stuff you really need to mine.
That last requirement happens to be my personal downfall. I've gotten into the habit of letting my mind drift on my WIP before I get out of bed in the morning. I do find that I have better insights that way. The only problem is, I usually do that on a particular scene or plot point.

Basically, creativity is like a car. Sure, you can push it uphill and you'll eventually get there. But the fun part of writing happens when you get the car going, dive into the driver's seat, and let the wind roar through your hair while the car does the work.

How About You?

Where do you get your best ideas and inspiration? Do you have a trick for unleashing your creativity?

Pick ANY YA Novel You Want Giveaway

WIN a 'COMPULSION FOR READING' tote bag, signed Compulsion, two trinket bookmarks and ANY YA novel of your choice! (International)

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Shameless Promotion Alert - Compulsion on Sale for $5.63

I just saw that Amazon has the Compulsion paperback on deep discount for pre-order. It comes out next Tuesday. 

If you know anyone who'd like a copy, please pass the word. I'd be very grateful!

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.
All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lived with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt's South Carolina plantation instead--a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn't what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.


  1. Music hands me lots of epiphanies. Some phrase in the middle of a song I've put in a WIP playlist will leap out and smack me with a moment, scene, character reveal or other nugget.

    1. Oooh--that's a good one. I need to try that while I'm walking ; )

  2. Hi guys, I have a Q about the "adding to Goodreads" bit of your giveaways -- if you add Compulsion or Persuasion to a shelf titled other than the ones listed (like "read" for Compulsion or "to-read" for Persuasion or even others, like "on my blog" or something), could that still work? I've just been wondering for a while. Thanks! :)

  3. Great piece, Martina - and yes this is how it works so many times . . . the hard part is being patient waiting for the epiphanies to rise to the surface!


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