Unleashing the subconscious and overcoming the writer’s block

I have been reading Can I Change Your Mind? The Craft and Art of Persuasive Writing by Lindsay Camp, a copywriter. He writes about the need for “unleashing the subconscious”. He writes:

“I want to expand a bit on the role played by the non-rational mind in making writing come alive.

“Similes are a particularly good illustration of what I’m talking about. On a recent holiday in the south of France, I was walking along a country lane, lined with large houses set back from the road. As I came level with each house, a huge ferocious-sounding dog would race out from inside and bark furiously at me – until it was perfectly satisfied that I was continuing on my way, and meant its owners no harm. Then, as I came to the next house, another dog would emerge and give a repeat performance; and so on at each house, along the lane.

“An image sprang into my mind. The dogs were like air traffic controllers – each shepherding me through its portion of ‘airspace’, before handing me on to the next.

“This simile made me smile. But the reason I mention it is because I’d like you to consider where such images come from. Absolutely nowhere. That’s to say, they emerge, unbidden, from the subconscious. No mental effort or rational thought process is involved. The mind takes one piece of information and cross-references it with another; forming a connection that allows a current to flow through the sentence, resulting – however briefly – in a flash of illumination.

“True, good writers must be logical thinkers, otherwise coherence and compelling argument go out of the window. But unless we can also learn to let our creative subconscious off the leash, our writing will lack freshness and colour. I do that, usually, by staring blankly into space, and deliberately emptying my head of conscious thought, like … a vicar chucking the Rotary Club out of the church hall, to make space for a playgroup full of hyperactive toddlers…

Editing and appearances

“Of course, I edit as I write. For less experienced writers, I think there’s a good case for just splurging it all down as fast as possible, from beginning to end, and then going back to cut and shape it afterwards. But, partly for practical reasons, I prefer to do that in real time.

“The practical reasons are to do with deadlines. Nearly always, I’m writing against the clock, so I want to ensure that when I get to the end of a piece of writing, it’s very nearly finished: just a quick read through; a couple of final tweaks; and then I can hit ‘send’. Of course, it doesn’t always work like this. But usually, when I get to the end of a paragraph or the bottom of a page, I don’t continue until I’m 95% happy with what I’ve written…

Writer’s block: what happens when the words won’t come?

“What can I tell you about how I cope when the words refuse to flow? Easily the most effective way is to stop trying. If consciously straining and striving what I need to express what I need to say doesn’t work, I leave it for 10 minutes, a couple of hours or overnight, depending how much time I’ve got. This, of course, is to allow the subconscious to go to work…

“What if I’m working to a tight deadline, and I really don’t have even 10 minutes to spare? Then I remind myself that when a writer runs into difficulties, it’s very rarely words that are the real problem. Almost always, confused or over-complicated thinking is to blame…

“If something I want to say just won’t come out right, it may be that I just don’t have the words to capture that particular thought process. So I look at it from a different angle. Turn it back to front. Simplify it. True, I may lose something by doing this: but better a slightly less complex idea clearly expressed than a confused reader…”

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