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Your Subconscious is the Real Storyteller
We think we make art at the conscious level, but sometimes the best stuff is entirely beyond our control
This is part of my “Art of Noticing” series, in which I learn, find, or discover the things around me that usually go unnoticed and turn them into an endless source of creative inspiration.
Today, I learned that Stephen King was too drunk and high to remember writing Cujo. It got me thinking that it wasn’t really KING writing, but his shadow side.
I read in Stephen King’s memoir On Writing that in the depths of drug and alcohol haze, he sometimes wrote without any real conscious awareness. Specifically, he doesn’t remember writing Cujo at all. That struck me as strange. I’m not as successful as King, but I’ve written more books than he has. And although I've forgotten pieces of stories, I’ve never lost one entirely. Reading about King rammed home something I already sort of knew: Stories might not spring from conscious work, but instead from a deeper, more hidden place.
Most people think that when writing, every word and sentence comes from a conscious decision to write that word or sentence. King's experience (and my own, to a less drug-addled degree) proves the contrary. Sometimes the stories just flow, with the conscious mind on the sidelines. We might be tapping into emotions, memories, and narratives that are deeply embedded … often without even knowing it.
As a storyteller, it’s fascinating to consider the idea that not everything I write is intentional. Sometimes, creation is almost entirely unconscious.
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Here's how this "noticing" can benefit my stories and art:
Embracing the Subconscious Stream
When we write or create, there's a potential gold mine in our subconscious minds, hiding deep … just waiting to be explored. By being open it, we might find narratives, characters, or themes we hadn't consciously considered. The richness of such unplanned discoveries can add layers of depth and authenticity we could never create at a conscious level.
Some people use free-writing to explore their own depths: just writing and writing, never thinking or censoring, and seeing what comes out. Personally, I prefer talking out loud to myself and seeing what emerges that way. (Side note: Good thing Bluetooth earpieces were invented, because now I seem almost normal, walking the neighborhood and talking to nobody. People assume I’m on a call.)
And hey, it’s therapeutic too! By letting stories emerge from subconscious places, we might end up confronting, understanding, and perhaps even resolving personal conflicts or traumas.
Remember, while intention and planning are pillars of creativity, sometimes the most profound stories come from deep places inside us — places in which we usually don’t look. Embrace the unexpected; it might just be the muse you've been seeking.
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