Writing process

The under-rated subconscious

We have a routine in our house, where most mornings we grab the paper and do the quiz while we drink coffee and wake up.

This morning I was doing the quiz and the question came up, “Name the author who wrote five books featuring Tom Ripley.”

Total mental blank. I knew Ripley was a con artist and a murder, but I didn’t know who created him.

Then, two questions later, when we’re trying to work out who came bottom of the ladder in the A-league two years ago (neither of us had any idea), up pops a name. “Patricia Highsmith.”

The subconscious is an underrated tool. Give your mind a puzzle to solve, then sleep on it. You’ll often wake up next morning with the problem solved. That’s provided you can manage not to worry about it so that you keep yourself awake all night.

For a writer, it’s a boon.

We’ll often talk out writing problem of an evening, not come up with a solution at all, but next day—after we’ve done the quiz—one of us will say, “Suppose this happens”, or “Suppose we move that part to earlier in the book, where our character has more of a reason to want to …”.

It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like serendipity. But your subconscious has been working away in the background, coming around to that conclusion.

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