Writing from Your Subconscious

Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro on the supranatural

The film Pan’s Labyrinth was acclaimed for its powerful story and richly beautiful as well as terrifying images.

Writer and director Guillermo del Toro once commented, “When you have the intuition that there is something which is there, but out of the reach of your physical world, art and religion are the only means to get to it.”

In an interview, del Toro spoke about humans having two levels of thought: “One is conscious and the other unconscious or subconscious…

“Our problem is that we divide things that may be instinctive and collective and we have compartmentalized our perception so strongly that we only get them in glimpses and I think this is where the idea of the Jungian archetype comes to work…

“I believe that there is a whole dimension that I wouldn’t call supernatural but ‘supranatural,’ that I believe in.” [From a San Francisco Bay Guardian interview.]

Steve Martin on writing vs editing

Another film writer, as well as actor, Steve Martin thinks “The conscious mind is the editor, and the subconscious mind is the writer. And the joy of writing, when you’re writing from your subconscious, is beautiful — it’s thrilling. When you’re editing, which is your conscious mind, it’s like torture. And I’ve just kind of decided that anytime it’s torture, I want to stop. I’ll just put it down and wait until it becomes not torture.” [NY Times, 8.8.99]

Writing takes place in the subconscious

In her book Archetypes for Writers, Jennifer Van Bergen affirms that “Writing takes place in the subconscious. Some people view the subconscious as merely a dumping ground for stuff the conscious mind cannot or does not want to handle.

“Others consider that the subconscious only exists for people who have ‘problems.’ They think that if you are healthy, your subconscious will just fall into line with your conscious mind. Neither of these ideas is true.”

She adds, “The subconscious actually operates – in everyone – as an independent mind. It perceives, processes, and retains things that never enter the conscious mind at all.”

“We all have material in the subconscious. In fact,it is where nearly all our material is found, but that material cannot gather itself together, emerge, and become part of a work of art (or our life) unless the conscious mind allows it.”

Her book provides concrete information and exercises for, as she puts it, “doing archetypes” – not the “usual writing skills, but rather distinct, separate non-writing skills that, together, enable one to do ‘one’s own writing,’ and to access and develop one’s existing characters, and, ultimately, to write them in the context of their real lives (stories).”

Also see her article Archetypes for Writers, and my post Dancing with our unconscious.

Intuition integrates conscious and unconscious

Being creative and realizing our talents as an artist or any identity we want to be involves self-awareness and respecting who we really are, including our unconscious depths.

Brain/mind researcher Dr Jill Ammon-Wexler notes in her article Your Intuitive Intelligence that intuition is a “whole brain” function, and “draws upon both our higher mind, and our entire lifetime of experience stored in the subconscious mind. It’s probably our most powerful method of integrating our conscious and subconscious thought processes.”

Many writers and other artists attribute creative thinking and inspiration to the subconscious.

The book Sparks of Genius, among many other sources, talks about “those pre-logical glimmerings sensed amid the noise of formal thinking that intuitively synthesize an insight before it is translated into words, dance, music, math, pictures, whatever.” [Kirkus Reviews]

In his article Writers Thrive On Anxiety, hypno-psychotherapist Dr. Bryan Knight declares that hypnosis can help writers in a number of ways – including “releasing the creative power of the subconscious.” [From my article Can Hypnosis Enhance Creativity?]

Going to the cave

Author Steve Pavlina writes about “going to his cave” and becoming immersed in creative writing projects:

“For some reason these periods of intense concentration tend to reduce my need for sleep, much like doing an extended meditation. … I’ve never been into drugs, but I have to imagine there are drugs that could induce something similar to this state of being.

“In many ways it feels like my conscious mind goes on a trip. I lose awareness of my physical senses and become lodged in a reality somewhere beyond the physical universe, a world of pure thought and ideas.”

From his article My Experience of Creativity.



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  3. […] I love looking inside people’s heads. Yes, it’s creepy but you know you do too. (And I don’t mean the X-rated stuff. That kind of thing is so overdone.) What a person says and does reveals a lot, but what they care enough about to put on paper is something else. The ideas are refined and thought-out, and they are something important. They may not be 100% honest, but they are usually sincere. Some writers don’t even write based on their conscious thoughts! […]

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