Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist nor any other type of medical professional. The following are the ramblings of a novelist, for entertainment purposes only. 😉
Ignorance is bliss
I’ve been doing it all along—writing my first drafts in a state of hypnosis, or something similar to hypnosis—since I began writing novels in 2006; yet I didn’t realize it until recently while doing research for my new psychological suspense novel, Four Steps Under.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis
One of the things I learned is that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. A therapist doesn’t hypnotize you. He leads you through the process of hypnotizing yourself. You’re always in control.
And while you’re in that state, you are communicating directly with your subconscious—the part of your mind that keeps your heart beating, keeps you breathing, and allows you to drive your car safely down the road while your conscious mind is thinking about something else (highway hypnosis). The subconscious can handle many tasks at the same time.
Is multitasking a myth?
But can’t our conscious mind handle multiple tasks simultaneously, i.e., multitasking? Try listening to music while reading a book while keeping on eye on Facebook. Can you concentrate on all three at the same time and retain new information?
Studies have shown that most of us struggle with this. You listen to the music for a few seconds, then read a sentence in the book, then glance at a new Facebook post. And every time you listen to a few bars of the music or take a peek at your phone, you have to re-read the sentence you just read. And when you’re finished, you probably won’t have comprehended much of what you’ve read.
Could the conscious mind do the work of the subconscious?
Suppose your conscious mind was in charge of keeping your heartbeat in rhythm and reminding you to breathe. Would you have time to think of anything else? I wouldn’t want to find out. Would you?
Yet, your subconscious handles those functions and tons of others all at the same time with ease.
What does this have to do with writing a novel?
When I sit down to write my first draft—where I go from a blank page on the screen to 50,000+ words over a period of weeks—unless my mind is in the proper state, unless I have that direct communication with my subconscious mind, I can’t create characters or places or scenes. I’ve got nothing. No imagination. Zero.
My conscious mind doesn’t seem capable of coming up with any original thoughts. It just keep thinking about how blank the page looks. It tends to be uptight, unimaginative. But my subconscious can come up with new and wild and cool, crazy ideas—which is exactly what I need when I’m writing my first draft.
A conversation between my conscious and subconscious
My conscious and subconscious brainstorm ideas for new novels and short stories. For my latest novel, Four Steps Under, the interaction went a little something like this:
Conscious: Let’s write a suspense novel about a man who’s seeking revenge for the murder of his parents.
Subconscious: Okay, but let’s give him some kind of special powers.
Conscious: No, we’re not writing a superhero story.
Subconscious: Okay, no superpowers, but how about special brain powers? No, wait! Not special powers. Special abilities. Like, what if he could hypnotize himself and do cool stuff while he’s under hypnosis?
Conscious: What do you mean by cool stuff?
Subconscious: He could have multiple personalities.
Conscious: Seriously? You want the protagonist to be a psycho?
Subconscious: No, no. He would have control over the personalities.
Conscious: So, he could go in and out of these personalities at will?
Subconscious: Yeah, mostly.
Subconscious: Got to keep it interesting, man. Got to have a chance of something going wrong.
Conscious: Well, yeah, sure.
Subconscious: Like him getting stuck under hypnosis.
Conscious: Then how would he ever come out?
Subconscious: I don’t know. I’ll think of something. And he would create all these personalities himself—as many as he wanted—and use them to do things that he normally couldn’t get away with—like vigilante killings.
Conscious: Whoa! It sounds like you’re turning the protagonist into a villain.
Subconscious: No worries. I know what I’m doing.
Conscious: What about a love interest? Would he have a special woman in his life?
Conscious: Okay, then. I’m not sure this will work, but start writing.
Subconscious: Yes, sir! Tighten your seatbelt. Here we go…
Direct connection between the subconscious and the fingers
In effect, I force my conscious mind to get out of the way, allowing my fingers to type the thoughts coming directly from my subconscious. You’ve probably heard authors talk about how their characters will seize control of the writing process, taking a story to places the author had no intention of going. This is how it happens (for me, anyway).
I’ve written ten novels and novellas, and three dozen short stories—hundreds of thousands of words. Yet, as I sit down to begin my eleven novel and stare at that empty page on my computer screen, I have one terrifying thought: THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!!!
The truth is that I can’t do it. Not unless I get into the correct frame of mind. And I’ve come to realize that the frame of mind I’m referring to is hypnosis—or something very similar.
And that’s what I do when I’m writing a first draft. I instruct my subconscious to make up things, and then encourage it to believe it’s all true. Out of thin air, my subconscious creates people and places and conversations and scenes, and then accepts them as real. Real people and places. Things that really happened. The characters are just as real as someone I know.
My subconscious doesn’t seem to know the difference. Only my conscious mind recognizes the thin line that divides fact from fiction—and sometimes that line gets a little blurry.
The subconscious is a lousy editor
That’s how I use a form of hypnotism to write my first draft. And once that’s done, my conscious mind takes over and does the editing, the re-writing. My subconscious is lousy at editing. It keeps wanting to make up stuff and add more story instead of concentrating on refining what’s already there.
The imagination expert
So, if you’re trying to write a short story or a novel or any other type of fiction and you’ve got writer’s block or blank page syndrome, maybe it’s time to call in the imagination expert: your subconscious.
What’s your experience?
Do you write fiction? What is your experience? What is happening in your mind when you’re writing that first draft?