I think my subconscious wants to help, it really does, but it’s like a toddler that spends more time falling over than running, and it was headed in the wrong direction anyway.
Then I give up and make myself a comforting cup of tea, only to turn back and find the blocks are arranged in a tower that’s colour-coordinated, structurally sound enough to withstand a siege, and elegant enough for a Disney princess.
Okay, maybe it’s not that good. Disney princesses are really picky.
My subconscious shows its colours
I first noticed the phenomenon when I was doing a maths exam. Around question 15, a little voice in the back of my head said, “go back and fix question eight.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“You mixed up the limits of the integral.”
I went back. My subconscious was right.
“How did you know that? I wasn’t even thinking about question eight any more.”
“Yes, but I was.”
My subconscious is no help at the time, but when I move on it keeps plugging at the problem and often manages to surprise me.
Late to the blogging party
I noticed the same thing when I started blogging. I resisted starting a blog for a long time, thinking I had nothing to talk about. (As it turns out, you don’t need anything to talk about, so all good there.)
To make sure I never drew a blank when I sat down to write a post, I set aside time each weekend to brainstorm ten post ideas that I could use during the week. Seeing as I only post twice a week, that gave me plenty of leeway to not use terrible ideas. Thankfully.
The first weekend I say down and painfully wrung ten ideas out of my brain. Each was harder to find than the last, and they were mostly dreadful. Then I went to make a cup of tea.
Bing! Up popped idea 11. It was better than any of the others.
I finished making my tea and sat down to edit my novel, and idea 12 flashed into mind.
For the next few hours, random ideas sprang up. My subconscious had finally realised what we were doing and decided to play. It was late to the party, but it came in the end with wide-eyed bumbling enthusiasm.
My subconscious and the creative process
The same process work for generating story ideas. I’m not one of these writers who sneezes ideas. Tell me to write a short story and I’ll stare at an empty page with no idea what to say.
At one point I realised I wouldn’t be working on my current project forever (though it might be fairly close), and I’d have to start thinking about what to write next.
I took a deep breath and did what I always do when I run into writing problems: opened a writing craft book. The book gave a list of exercises you can do to generate story ideas. Two in particular caught my eye: the title game and the first line game. They pretty much describe themselves. You come up with a title or a first line, and then scrawl down all the ideas you can think of for what the book might be about.
I play for half an hour at a time once a week. At first it was hard and painful. The ideas were mindless cliches like “there’s a bad guy who tries to take over the world and the good guy has to stop her.” The whole thing seemed like a waste of time.
But then the toddler finally got the game and started spewing sparkly ideas all over the carpet.
After my half hour ends, my brain keeps going for about three days. By day four it’s been distracted by shiny marbles, but each time it comes back faster when I call.
Ideally I’d do half an hour every three or four days to keep my toddler perpetually in the zone, but life has other ideas. Once a week is nearly as good.
I love that my mind works like this, but at the same time it scares me. If I stop thinking about stories and fantasy worlds, will there come a time when I won’t be able to think about them any more? Is that what it means to grow up? No, thanks.
Fortunately, it seems that all you have to do to keep from growing up is keep playing with your inner toddler. You might end up with blocks all over the floor and sand wedged in your unmentionables, but it’ll be worth it.
Does your brain work like this too? Do you have a favourite method for generating story ideas?
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10 thoughts on “My subconscious is a somewhat slow toddler”
Nope, my brain doesn’t work like that at all. XD My subconscious is running for the Most Unhelpful award.
Thinking what to write next can definitely be panic-inducing (professional panicker right here!). I’m at the mercy of spontaneous writing prompts from random things like conversations with friends, documentaries, music videos… All of a sudden my mind goes like “ooh, but what if this happened in a different environment and x turned into z?”, but that’s if I’m lucky. Nine times out of ten my mind is blank. I’m trying to train my muse though. My favorite place to look for book ideas are galleries for premade ebook covers. I love looking at beautiful covers and imagining what kind of story could go with them.
I love the idea of getting inspiration from premade ebook covers! I follow a few image accounts on Twitter for similar reasons. They send me pictures of creepy abandoned houses, and I can’t help wondering who might live there… Do you have a favourite site where you go to look at covers?
Yup, I follow image accounts on Twitter, too! It’s also great for inspiration. I’ve seen you retweet gorgeous abandoned houses, they look really cool. I go through a lot of galleries, but my favorite place to look at covers is https://ebookindiecovers.com The designer caters particularly for the genre I write, so I also buy my covers from her.
(please feel free to drop me links if you know nice premade ebook cover galleries! :D)
What a great site! (Especially if you write romance.)
I can definitely identify with this – and have I mentioned lately that I love your writing? These blog posts are just brilliant.
Yay! Maybe we should arrange a play date for our toddler subconsciousnesses! (Wow, that word was really hard to type.)
Aw, thank you so much. I’m thrilled you like my blog. I have a lot of fun writing the pieces, and it’s awesome that someone enjoys reading them too.
A cup of tea fixes just about everything. 😀
You’ve got that one right!
My mind works very similarly to your own, but I lack fear. I tend to sit at my laptop with no clue what I am about to write but somehow my fingers know otherwise.
I began my blog not knowing what a blog was. I intended it to be an online diary, somewhere to write whatever I felt, never for a minute thinking, or even knowing, others could read it. Now four years later I see it differently, but I continue to love it and as you say, I don’t need to have anything of substance to write about.
Thanks for calling by, I’ve enjoyed the little I’ve already read here. That subconscious of yours is doing a good job.
Thanks for coming by, tric! I’m glad you like what you see–I’ll pass the compliment on to my inner toddler (who probably won’t throw custard at you). 🙂
I wish I had fingers as smart as yours. I’m in awe of anyone who can blog for four years and still be having a ball with it, as you clearly are.
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