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The Subconscious: The Fount of Creativity?

The concept of the subconscious as the fount of creativity has fascinated me for several years now.  I was reminded of that when I read an article my friend Bobbi wrote on Frida Kahlo, which was published in the MN Jung Association magazine Elements.

Kahlo’s work is metaphorical jungle, rich with color and symbolism.  For me, its bizarre beauty is a treat for the eyes and heart.  The truth of her shines clearly through that work.  It’s like it came straight from her subconscious mind.  So interesting and so pure – at least to me.

Sometimes I feel as if creativity today is too filtered through our various forms of media.  Case in point, I read a short article on MTV’s impact on music.  In it, the author cited someone’s predicting that MTV would move us away from the soul of music – its passion, easy expression, warmth, and compassion — to a focus on the artist and his/her life instead.  The author pointed out that, indeed, MTV had moved away from music, to plasticizing the artist and their lives to create reality TV shows.  Food for the vegetating conscious mind perhaps, but, for me, it doesn’t represent pure creativity at its essence — that which comes fresh from the subconscious mind.  Why?  Because it’s too contrived.  Not intuitive. Too obvious.

My most recent experience with the subconscious happened just this morning.  Yesterday, I had a wildly creative day.  Five thousand and twenty seven words – all of chapter six of my second Race the Night novel – all in service of achieving the goal of fifty thousand words by November 30th.  However, the daylong effort left me at a crossroads in the book.  I went to bed with a bad case of eyestrain and an empty mind.  How was I going to stage the last half of the book?

A short night passed, the alarm going off after six hours.  After resetting it for a half hour later, I asked myself, half-asleep, “How does that next half need to play out?”  When I opened my eyes twenty-six minutes later, images flashed into mind:  pictures of ATVs rumbling through woods and meadows, a modern cabin in the woods, and a confrontation in my protagonist’s bedroom between her and the bad guy.

Wow. Lucky for me the images stayed with me all through the class I had to go to this morning.  When I got home, I pulled up my outline and got everything down.

A nagging question remained, “How would my heroine’s character need to act in this situation for it to seem real and true to her personality?”  During my Poetry Meetup tonight,  I was barraged by other people’s marvelous images.  I got the answer on the drive back home.

My subconscious seems to flourish in these two ways:

  1. Asking myself a challenging question and then sleeping or half-sleeping on it.  The images come after.
  2. Again asking the question and then overloading on others’ creativity.  The answer comes after.

What makes your creative neurons fire?

Creativity at Peace

While I was sitting in my living room last night writing with a couple of the Ladies Who Write group, I felt so at peace.  It was so wonderful to open my home to folks whose goals were the same as mine, who put down words in a way to convey meaning and story.

On this rainy, gray cloudy day, I lay my head against a furry kitty leg that’s draped over the back of my overstuffed chair, and I’m at peace.   I’m so grateful for all this.

I’ve been blessed during this period of rest between jobs with the mind and heart to write. And not just write, but to write what I really want to write, to create characters and situations from nothing and select pieces of my own life. Even better, I’ve had the will to reach out and wrap my care around folks whose hearts yearn like mine — to share parts of ourselves through our stories.  Because every writer puts a little bit of him/herself on the page s/he writes.  The children of our hearts, our minds and souls land on those pages – in some form or another, large or small.  (I’m sure that’s why some of us take feedback about our work so poorly.)

That’s why, for me, writing is a sacred exercise sometimes – a way to connect with the Great Creator, the ultimate Maker who infused us with a bit of that great gift.

I’m so very grateful that today I can revel in the peace and glory in the magnificence of that tiny gift I’ve been given.  On other days, my human emotions are too much with me, building the blocks and obstacles that pull me away from that bit of Creation inside me, making it hard to access it, hard to believe it exists at all.  But, it does exist.

So, today, I’ll freely revel in it.  It’s there, today and every day for the rest of my existence whether I reach inward for it or believe in it.  I’m so grateful for it today and always.  Thank you….

Well Worth the Wait

I took the week off before NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) because it felt like the right thing to do.  So, I napped, went to job interviews, took a class, read a few books by my favorite authors, did some yard work and was otherwise a slug.

With my best writing gal pals, the Ladies Who Write (LWW), I went to the Twin Cities NaNoWriMo kickoff party at Nina’s Coffeehouse on Sunday night the 28th and met new fellow writing geeks.  I also spread the gospel about the MN Spec Fiction Meetup groups to a couple of eager listeners – a major bonus.  There was some talk about whether one should start a fresh novel or if it was okay to continue with one in progress.  I knew what I was going to do and from listening to everyone else talk, it was a mixed bag.

And then Thursday, November 1st dawned – the first day of NaNo.   Was it there – my creativity?  Could I write?   Race the Night 2 was on deck.  Would it be a strike-out, walk, foul ball or a home run?

I sat down, fingers to keyboard, opened up the previous chapter and a half I’d written, read through them and sallied forth, wind in my sails, bit in my teeth and a whole raft of other non-baseball cliches.  But it was there.  Hooray! I drafted 3500 words that first day.  I guess I was more than ready.  And the break had been a much needed one.

On Friday night, I invited the LWW over for a write-in at 7:00.  To prepare, I scrubbed down the homestead and put up my cute little Thanksgiving decorations for group inspiration.  The gals all swooped in promptly at seven, we nattered, picked our places throughout the downstairs of my house, plugged in, got Wifi-ed up, plates full of food, read each other’s synopses, joyfully teased each other and got down to work by 7:30.

An added benefit for me was some great feedback from one of the LWW who’d finished beta-reading my first book, Lady of Snows.  What fun!  Now, I can work on finalizing that too!

We all sat around together, laptop monitors illuminating our faces, earbuds in play, and simply wrote our little hearts out.  It was so nice to have their company, read little passages to each other during breaks, remind each other to “SAVE!” periodically – even with AutoSave turned on — and compare word counts.

What a blessing it was to write in the company of other writers.  Everyone was relaxed, easy and respectful of the time and space to create within.  It was one of the best experiences of my recent history.   And I’m humbled and grateful for the LWW’s presence in my house and in my life.

Come on back this Friday night, gals!  Same bat time, same bat station.  And as Aunty Nae says, “Write on!”

When “Wait” Is the Answer

I’ve been beset off and on this week with lack of desire to write and feeling blocked.

One reason is lack of answers to key questions.  My story has a lot of police procedure to it, and I don’t have that information yet.   I hadn’t heard back from the police community liaison’s office I’d approached about an interview – first contact a month and a half ago.  Rather than fearing to appear too persistent or pushy as I’ve done in the past and giving up, I called them yesterday.  As a result, I got the specific phone number of the person to talk to and a reason – they’ve been really busy this month.  It’s nice to know I’m not just being blown off.

Then, I realized I had a resource in my own family.  So, I IMed my cousin on Facebook and scheduled an interview with her.  She lives a couple of states south, but the basic premises should be the same.

Through aIl this, I also considered writing past the scenes in chapter 2 that require the information, writing chapters three and four.  But, how things are done would impact how events turn within chapter 2.  By writing the next chapters, I might be closing off avenues of development that might spring up when I finally get the needed information.   I have a general outline, a list of key events, but I also like to write somewhat organically, letting the story and characters develop as they need to.

I’d originally had the goal of completing a first draft of Race the Night: Second Course Up North in October, but the opportunity to submit to Harper-Voyager unagented came up, and I jumped at it.  I worked feverishly through October fourteenth to get the Race the Night: First Bite ready for submission.  Then I started the next book right away and completed chapter one of book 2 the Thursday after submitting book 1 on Sunday.

I’m going to be writing every day in November for NaNoWriMo (, National Novel Writing Month, to log word count – working on the sequel to Lady of Snows: Quest for the Heir.  So, I decided a couple of guilt-free writing-less days was okay.  It feels like I need to recharge my creative batteries.  When I interview my cousin this evening, I’m sure the ideas will start popping; that’s just how my brain works.

Given the way things worked out in October, trying to draft a novel in two weeks without the proper research really isn’t reasonable.  Sometimes goals just aren’t doable when life steps in and shakes up our timelines.

Those are really good excuses or very rational reasons to give myself a guilt-free break.  I’ll go with “Sometimes ‘wait’ is the answer.” And instead of feeling stuck and guilty, I’m waiting with gleeful anticipation.

The Cure for Creative Constipation

Last night, I sat down to my second chapter of Race the Night book 2, and I thought, “Where’s the joy? Where’s the wonder, the excitement that I had when I was drafting book one?” I’d also been feeling really sad that I haven’t been making as much progress on it as I’d hoped and planned.

Then I reflected on the tension and emotional smack-downs I’d been taking this week. I’d had to made some decisions about continuing associations with groups or specific people. It doesn’t make sense to hang on to people or situations that don’t fit me anymore or are destructive. That’s because inappropriate loyalty and angst make me creatively constipated.

I realized, “This is why. This toxic emotion is why I’m afraid. This is why I’m so reluctant to sit down. I’m afraid I won’t have anything to write.”

So, I opened up my online journal and threw it all out there — an emotional and spiritual purge. Clearing the creative pipes. Now, I was ready to tackle the scene that was resisting me.

First, I was able to identify a key issue: I couldn’t see how the physical scene would work. I thought, maybe I just need to sketch it out. Now, I’m no artist in that medium, but taking out a pencil and a piece of paper and drawing out the buildings and the tree line clarified so much for me. I could finally see it. And, that set the scene for the whole rest of the book.

Then, the ideas started to flow. “Well, what about this? Does this make sense? If I use that, I’m going to have to set it up in the previous scene. “

So the spewing, the drawing, the idea blurts or blurbs and a bit of rewriting helped me move through a scene mired in molasses. I researched and wrote the troublesome scene last night. Interestingly, the joy and excitement were back. The rest is on deck for tonight — the end of chapter two.

It was my emotion about things completely unrelated to my book that blocked me, that precipitated the doubts. Once I’d journaled it all out, I was emotionally ready to do the creative work of writing.

Creativity and Boundaries

A significant event in my creative journey came several years ago when I was a member of a private writers group.  I was one of the more prolific writers, offering poems mostly.  At this memorable meeting, one of the members had not just critiqued my poem, though; she’d re-written it entirely and read it to the group.

The reactions of the other members to this move were subtle and subdued.  I couldn’t really gauge their reactions. Maybe because my own reaction was so vast.  And that reaction?  Utterly shocked and appalled.

Maybe it was an over-reaction.  Maybe I was overly sensitive.  But, what I felt was very real.  I felt she’d stolen from me, taken a product of my creative intent and reworked it into her image of “rightness.”   I felt violated. Her product was very far from what my original intent had been. This particular individual was infamous in our group of friends for having lousy boundaries.  In my opinion, that action proved it – and how.

There’s a whole world out there of fan fiction, and many people participate in it with great enthusiasm and enjoyment.   The original authors/creators of the stories/characters they spring from have varied reactions to this.  For example, Star Trek has had many spin-offs, fanzines, and books written about characters created by Gene Roddenberry and his staff.  Marian Zimmer Bradley and Mercedes Lackey have edited anthologies of short stories written by fans about their characters and worlds.  I understand that Laurell K. Hamilton is uncomfortable with fans writing stories using her worlds and characters.   A lifelong friend of mine writes nothing but fan fiction, and she has done it very well and enjoys it immensely.

When I attend Meetup critiques, public meetings of people with like interests who share their writing with others for feedback purposes, I’m prepared for a variety of philosophies, tastes, social, writing, and interpersonal skills and styles.  However, when delivering my critiques, I attempt to be aware of and sensitive to a poet or author’s creative intent, choosing words like  “For me”, “I observed” or “I interpreted”  or “I felt” and ending with “was that your intent?” or “was that intentional?” when I offer my feedback.  Use of the word “I” is my attempt to own my own interpretation or observations and convey that they’re filtered through my very human history, views, and naturally slanted lens.

I do this very intentionally because creativity is so personal, so powerful, so revealing at times of the writer’s inner self and vulnerability, that I want to be respectful of that.   In my critiques, I attempt to help the writer hone his/her creative intent so that it is most clearly conveyed to the maximum number of readers.

Creativity in the Face of Fear

I haven’t posted for about a week because I spent the time adding twenty-three thousand words to the first installment of my series Race the Night.

A publisher had advertised that it was open to unagented submissions. The minimum number of words accepted in a book was seventy thousand.  I thought that my first forty-seven thousand plus words/twelve chapters were fairly decent, and I worked hard to draft them – for over a month.  Adding twenty-three thousand words in six days felt like an overwhelming task.  How could I tackle it?

First, I used good old arithmetic.  Twelve chapters — so if I add a couple of thousand new words to each chapter, that might be a start. Then, I ran back through some ideas that I’d passed over or couldn’t find the right place for them.  I assessed the book, which is a first person narrative that spans three days. Where in that three days is there room for about 6,000 new words – a whole new chapter?  I found it.

Then I began reading from chapter 1 and started finding holes.  Of course, they needed to be filled.

As I went back through the book and added, I found areas of untapped riches.  As my character dealt with a looming deadline and loss, it became clear that because she experienced intense inner turmoil , she should  have a crisis of faith.   Great grist for the mill!

As I raced to meet the submission deadline, I discovered that I could be creative yet incisive on demand.  I’d known that I could do it in a business setting.  It was exciting to find out I could do it in fiction writing.  When I finally submitted my book on Sunday night, I had a far richer book than the one I started with.

When I first stared at a twenty-three thousand word increase, I was scared.  But, instead of allowing the fear to make me give up, I focused on it as a problem and attacked it systematically.  Starting simple.  Starting with what I already had.

What helped me the most was that I recognized and named the fear.  Because I wanted to make my dream of becoming published come true, I then attacked the problem instead of allowing the fear to take over.

My goal plus setting myself a complex problem allowed me to be creative in the face of fear.

Doing It Anyway

Thank all that’s holy for Anne Lamott.  When she wrote, “All first drafts are shitty*,” she gave a generation of writers permission to unabashedly write crap the first time out and be okay with it.   That was huge for me when I read it a few years back.  And it was especially huge today.

Today I did my very best to ignore negative portents of futility, obstacles, no energy and too much of a good thing. I refused to allow myself to be dragged down by discouragement and pain.  And so I wrote crap.  Inserting some new words into what I thought were some pretty decent words.   Gilding the lily, from my perspective.

But what really mattered was that I did it.  I wrote.   When I was scared.  When I was discouraged.  When I felt like chucking the whole damned thing. When I really didn’t feel like it.  When there was no huge inspiration, no feeling of excitement and bliss that I get sometimes when I’m really one with the creative spark.

Normally, I would have run yipping to the couch with my tail between my legs to seek succor in Other People’s Stories.  But, I didn’t do that.  Instead, I wrote.  I wrote anyway.

And at the end of a tough day, when I had to refuse to discuss a job further that sounded so fun because the money was only half of what I needed to live on.  When I called my mother to enjoy our verbal sparring, and she was vague and retelling the same things she’d told me yesterday and slurring and searching hard for words.  When I was discouraged that both my books fell short of the word count requirement of a publisher accepting submissions.  When a third review of a short story was panned by most reviewers. Today, I had one laurel to rest on.

I wrote using my unsticking formula, and it worked.  Some of what I wrote was decent.  And some of it was downright shitty.

Thank you, Anne Lamott, for making shitty a perfectly fine thing to draft.

So, on a no-good, lousy, rotten, terrible day, shitty writing was a major triumph.   Because I felt better afterward.  Because I did it anyway.

I can go back to what I wrote tomorrow, and it will still be shitty, but I can work with that.


* in her book, Bird by Bird.

The Jekyll and Hyde of Creativity

Creativity is an interesting gift because it’s so hooked in to our humanity.  There’s such an elemental, even primal, emotional aspect to it.  Creativity seems alternately fragile or compelling in the wake of emotion — a rather Jekyll and Hyde-ish characteristic, if you will.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was originally written by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I saw a movie in the past couple of weeks, The Words, that aptly described how emotion compelled  creativity.  The Words was the layered film of a young author who stole the work of another man when he found a manuscript in an old valise bought from a shop in Paris.  The story was so gripping that the young author wanted to experience the sensation of those words leaving his own mind and fingers, so he typed it into his computer.  I won’t spoil the story for you, but the original author finds him eventually and relates his tale of how the story came to be.   The real author wrote it obsessively after his child died and his wife left him.  And it was brilliant.

I also recall seeing a documentary on Claude Monet, the impressionist, at the Minneapolis Institute of Art a few years back when several of his paintings were displayed.  In one section of the film, they read from his journal regarding an incident immediately after his first wife’s demise.  He reported being utterly grief-stricken at seeing her lifeless face.  But, his Muse (his word, not mine) imprisoned him in obsessive creativity.  He was compelled to execute his “Death Mask” painting while being horrified in one part of his mind because he should have been grieving.  Because of the shame he felt around it, the painting was not released for public viewing until after his death.

In my own life, emotion plays a big part in how available my creativity is to me, which I’d suspect many of you can relate to.   Recently, being unemployed, my creativity has been wide open, kind of like a fire hydrant – woohoo!! And believe me, I’m unabashedly wallowing in it!

However, a month or so back, my mother called me and laid into me — for no darned good reason.  She’s elderly, 79, endured and survived breast cancer, chemo and radiation, a stroke and seizure, my father’s death a year ago and is showing signs of dementia, which is hereditary in her family.  But, her diatribe pushed my buttons, major – regardless of her circumstances.  I spent the next few days mad as hell, hurt, frustrated, and my anxiety  was Mars-high.   The obsessive thoughts going through my head weren’t pretty nor was it any fun for the calmer side of me, listening to it and at its mercy.  And could I write?  Hell, no.  Until.  I got up in the wee hours one morning and slashed all that emotion down on paper as a rough poem.  Then, the obsessive thoughts were completely gone – a minor personal miracle.

I haven’t looked at that piece of paper since, and that’s okay.  Some of those emotions are still pretty raw.  I may never look at it again.  It may not really be a poem, instead just a way of getting that toxic* emotion out of me.

But it was an interesting study in emotion and how it first blocked my creativity and then exploded in a welter of creativity as catharsis.

Food for thought.

*For me

The Door

I built it myself, you know.



“You’ll never make a living at it,” he said.


Capricorn practicality picked up the gauntlet:

Worked  myself ass-less between the ears

Sought and achieved sheepskins

paved a living

double-mortgaged a money-pit

went in hock for cars

all with the door shut.



But I didn’t just construct the door;

Far too miniscule for me —

Instead, obsessive door obstruction:

Stuffed every crack,

Caulked and varnished to seamless,

Hinged in iron-corrosion-rust.

Immuring that right-brain spark,

the flame self-immolated,

damn-near choked to death.

Hence, the jagged-sanity glare.



Now near-end:

The door’s mountain-high

With passes so snowed shut

That Life’s glacial.

Is that all there is?

This frozen door?

Give me dynamite or give  me death.



Door destruction in a single blast;

Clearing debris’s sucked time.

But the message is clear, Dad:

There’s making a living and then

There’s making Life.




keeping the door open is the dare.

Fellow doorstops help.