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Monday, July 7, 2014

The Subconscious Writer

In novelist circles you hear a lot about plotters (authors who carefully plan their books in advance) and pantsers (authors who write by the seat of their pants and make discoveries along the way.) I’ve even heard the term “organic” writer tossed around lately, which is a prettier name for pantser. I’m a combination. I like to start a book organically, but at some point I can see through to the ending quicker than I can type, at which point I write a synopsis to help me remember the story. Sometimes I really think I need a new kind of name for myself. I propose, "The Subconscious Writer."

Why subconscious? Because so much of my creative process takes place on a level even I do not understand. Ideas percolate under the surface, maybe for weeks, maybe for months, maybe for years. At some point they burst out like a geyser. Characters are talking to me, scenes unfolding in my head, worlds evolving, and I’m frantically trying to get them down on paper before I lose them. I’m sure if push came to shove, I could sit down and come up with an idea and craft a book like a normal person, but that’s not the way I typically do it, and it’s not the way I desire to do it.

An upside of this subconscious process is that I rarely deal with writers block. If the words and scenes aren’t there, I simply don’t write. If I’m under some sort of deadline, I will sit down and read the last chapter or so, and then try to write a few paragraphs. Often, that will stir things up and get them moving in my head, and I’m on my way again. If not, I don’t push it. And if possible, I wait for that exciting artistic wave, because it’s so much more fun to surf it than to try to paddle against the current.

When I returned from Colorado a few weeks ago, I had every intention to work on my newest novel, Chivalrous. This is one I needed to plot in advance for the publisher, but I had my first solid creative burst before my trip and the novel was well under way. However, when I returned, I could just tell. It didn’t want to come. My subconscious was trying to unravel things. I didn’t feel any leading from the Holy Spirit to write. And so I didn’t.

Instead, I did what I felt prompted to do. I worked on me. On the trip, God had been dealing with my heart, and I wanted to continue that work. Over the next few weeks, I read a lot of nonfiction books about the spirit, personality, and the true self. During that time, a few ideas welled up from my subconscious about places in the book where I needed to tweak the plot to be truer to the heroine’s character. Then finally, while reading Desire: The Journey We Must Take to Find the Life God Offers, bells went off in my head. There was a lesson in that book that my heroine desperately needed to learn. Problem was, I needed to learn it too. And Gwendolyn couldn’t learn it until I did first.

What if I had rushed the process? What if I hadn’t waited for my subconscious to untangle things? What if I had pushed ahead of the prompting of the Holy Spirit? I still would have written a good book, but it would have been missing something. It wouldn’t have been all God intended it to be.

I desire to write hand in hand with God in a creative partnership. (He’s so much smarter and more creative than me.) I can’t do that by rushing through a novel. In the end, being a “subconscious writer” isn’t the goal. It’s just the process. The ultimate goal, whether pantser or plotter, is to be led by the Holy Spirit and allow him to flow through every word we put on the page. This is how to write with a godly passion that will cause our readers to fall in love with our stories and transform them from the inside out.
Readers, have you thought about how authors write? Would you rather read a story that is planned or that develops naturally? One written out of practicality or passion? Writers, what is your process like?

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