Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Writing Habits: 3 Ways to Engage Your Subconscious Mind

Yesterday I read this article in Observer by Benjamin Hardy. This paragraph got me thinking about the power of the subconscious mind:

The first thing to do when you wake up is output. This may be in the form of writing in a journal to capture all the work your subconscious has been doing while you were sleeping. Or immediately getting to the project you’re working on. When you get out of a meeting or finish any form of activity, rather than going directly to your email or other input, maximize your subconscious by going directly to output—your work. 

I've never thought in terms of "input" and "output" before, but now I'll probably use the words all the time because they fit so well into my beliefs about how the subconscious powers our writing.

I talk about this a lot with fellow writers, like when I'm in a workshop and note how well a particular metaphor works in someone's manuscript, and the writer says "I never noticed that," then looks abashed by admitting he didn't do that purposefully.

This always surprises me, that writers don't want to take credit for the hard work their subconscious mind does. Writing requires the focus and engagement of the entire mind. It's your subconscious. It's a part of you and unique to you. You get to take credit for it.

The writing process--I think any creative process--is powered by the subconscious. This is why it's so important to have habits in place to strengthen that part of us, to best take advantage of all the work our brains are doing when we're not writing.

I'm going to share three habits I've learned that open up my subconscious. These are tried and true methods that I've used for years that greatly improve not only my writing efficiency and quality, but also enhance my enjoyment of the writing process itself, which, let's face it, can be pretty tough.


Ideally: wake up, sit up, write in that notebook sitting on your nightstand. You have a notebook there, right? Even if you spend one single minute doing this, you will find so much rich material in your brain just waiting for your attention.

I know you might need to start that first cup of coffee or tea. I'm with you there. Take your notebook with you while your beverage of choice is brewing or steeping and write. Write anything that comes to mind in any way you want. Free writing works really well here if that's your thing. I do this with an espresso, and often with a bowl of oatmeal, too, because breakfast.

You can frame this first-thing-in-the-morning activity in whatever way works best for you. The most important thing is this: don't do input. No email, reading, phone calls, texting, etc. Write first. Believe me, all of that input stuff will still be there after you've written.

It's a lot like meditating. I find the whole focus of my day is changed if I do this, no matter what I'm doing. Ignoring my subconscious makes me antsy and distracted. Engaging it calms and focuses me.


You guys, if you've never done this, try it. Do it every day for a week and see what happens. When I write my dreams down--and I've written a lot of dreams--they become clearer over time, sharper, more vivid. And I'm a person who doesn't generally like journaling.

And rereading dreams is so much fun. Something scary in a dream can be so hilarious when you read it a week later, like the time I dreamed a giant rabbit was blocking me from getting into my house, and my dog said, "Look under his eyes." I'm never going to forget that one.


Hardy touches on this point, too. As a writer, one of the worst feelings I have is when I'm not writing but feeling I should be. This happens when my subconscious is crying out for my attention and needs me to output that stuff. If I fully engage with that, fully focus on writing, then it frees me to focus on whatever else I need to do that day: clean out the closet, or find materials for a workshop I'm teaching, or reading email, or walking my dogs.

By doing creative output--writing-- you've allowed your subconscious to play out all of the good stuff it has been gestating. Then it can start fresh again while you do some input, i.e. most everything that's not writing.

If you have another method that you use, I'd love to know about it. Trying new strategies for writing is a great way to freshen your process and give your brain a little reboot.

P.S. Every single damn time I wrote the word "subconscious," I had to go back and put the "c" in. Including that last time just there.


  1. Thank you for this blog Amy, I'm going to try your techniques. Interesting that you see your subconscious as the part of you that wants to write...I always thought it was the other way round and my subconscious was the part telling me to check my e-mail or get a snack!

    1. Hi Abby!

      I know exactly what you mean. I think of those impulses to check email or do anything other than write as embedded defense mechanisms, like my brain trying to avoid letting the subconscious do its work because hard work! It's also just emotionally tough sometimes, as you no doubt know, but that's where the good stuff comes from.

      Sometimes, though, you just freakin' need a snack. :-)

  2. Thank you for this blog Amy, I'm going to try your techniques. Interesting that you see your subconscious as the part of you that wants to write...I always thought it was the other way round and my subconscious was the part telling me to check my e-mail or get a snack!

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  8. Hey Amy,

    Love your article, I am also a writer from UK and I 100% agree with the first heading " WRITE IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU WAKE UP " I
    This heading totally relate to me, I also do the same when I was working at an online assignment writing service. I sleep while thinking about my next project and Voila, I get many effective ideas randomly in the morning.


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