Quieting the Critical Mind

Hi Folks,

Following on the tail of Trusting Your Subconscious Mind, this suits.

I’ve talked before about writing off into the dark. In fact, my whole Daily Journal is based on that method of writing, piggybacked on the writer’s determination to follow Heinlein’s Rules. I even teach an Audio Course on Writing Off Into the Dark. Click the link and scroll down to Course 12.

But one subtopic is sorely lacking any direct instruction that I can find, even my own. Possibly because it’s a highly personal problem that must be solved by each writer for himself or herself: How to Quiet the Conscious, Critical Mind.

I could tell you how I do it, but that might or might not work for you. At least sometimes I tell my critical, conscious mind (yes, aloud) to get away from me, leave me alone, go sit in that corner over there until I’m finished writing.

And once you’ve sent your grownup, responsible, control-freak conscious mind packing? Be a two year old, for goodness’ sake! Just tell a story! Run and play and enjoy yourself!

Now, writing off into the dark merely means writing without an outline. But a big part of that (and the reason practitioners don’t use an outline) is learning to trust your subconscious. Learning to let go and turn off your English teacher’s voice in your head.

I call it the Golden Bradbury Rule, and I’m paraphrasing: If you don’t surprise yourself, how can you possibly hope to surprise the reader?

A correspondent emailedme to ask how to shut off the critical voice. I suppose I could have just said something like, “The same way you did before” (grin) but I didn’t want to be flip.

The thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any direct instruction regarding HOW to turn off critical voice, but there are a lot of hints at how to do so in all the other advice. Here are some of those hints:

  • Just let go of control and trust your subconscious. Don’t consciously construct sentences etc. You know how to do that without thinking about it, so Just Write.
  • Don’t “direct” your characters as the almighty writer on high. Get down in the trenches and run through the story with them. Be the recorder. Describe the setting(s) they’re running through and write down what they say and do.
  • Don’t Think. Just write. Again, if you don’t surprise yourself as a writer, how can you hope to surprise the reader?

When he was asked how he wrote Dandelion Wine, Bradbury responded that he wrote it the same way he wrote pretty much all of his stories and novels. He sat down at the keyboard, put his fingers on the keys, and just wrote whatever came.

And that is perhaps the best advice on how to quiet the critical mind. Put your fingers on the keyboard and just write what comes. When you get stuck, just write the next sentence. Then write the next sentence. Then write the next sentence.

Now, how do YOU relinquish control and just enjoy the story as you’re writing it? How do YOU quiet your critical mind?

Happy writing,


The Journal, Monday, 1/23

Hey Folks,

Topic: Conscious Mind Rising

Well, I think I’ve been letting my conscious mind in a bit and didn’t even realize it. These past few days I’ve been saying I think the end of the book is near.

From there it was a very short slide down the slippery slope from “wouldn’t it be cool if it ended like this?” to “yep, this is how it’s going to end.”

In other words, I “decided” how it was going to end.
Anytime you “decide” anything beyond deciding to just write the next sentence, you’ve slipped away from trusting your subconscious mind.

When that happens, your conscious, critical mind creeps in and tries to stop the writing. Even now, with over 61,000 words in this book, that’s what happened to me the past couple of days.

Since I thought I knew how it was going to end, suddenly I started worrying about making various pieces “fit” so it would end that way. Ugh!

This morning I finally recognized the conscious mind intrusion when I wondered why it felt like the book was so mired. That’s ALWAYS a function of a conscious mind intrusion.

Time to relax, put my fingers on the keyboard, and just write whatever comes next. Does it matter whether the book ends the way I think it will?

No. Not in the slightest.

So I’m back to just writing the next sentence. Having fun. Whether the story ends the way I think it will or in some completely unexpected way, the journey to get there will be a relaxed, joyful one.

And that’s what it’s all about.

Just another note on this: I know about where I “decided” how the novel would end and what little “special” touches I’ve added since then. I was tempted to go back and remove that stuff, but I won’t. When the novel’s finished, THEN it will be time to cut what doesn’t fit, if anything.

Today, and Writing

Rolled out right at 3 and did basically nothing the first hour. Mona works today and Bryan will be busy reading or with games so I have most of the day if I need it.

Being lazy today. I could have started writing almost as soon as I got up, but I didn’t. Finally made it out to the Adobe Hovel around 6:40 and to the novel at 7.

A slow start again this morning, with only around 500 words in the first session. But it’s 8 a.m. so I’m forcing myself to take a break. Back in a bit.

Well, that turned into breakfast (scrambled eggs and salsa with beef tamales) and changing clothes. Back to the Hovel at 9.

Had a couple emails come in that I had to take care of. Also moved my writing ‘puter to the outside desk at the house for a bit while my kitten’s outside playing. So eventually back to the novel at 9:30.

Wow. Shaky day. My phone is primarily just a phone. But I also use it as a mobile hotspot for “emergencies” (by which I mean to respond to some emails when they come in) when I’m in the Hovel. Been doing that this morning. WAY too distracting.

So for the rest of today and in the future, I’m going to turn it face-down on the desk so I don’t see the indicator flashing. I’ll check for emails etc. during breaks.

11:10, past time for a break and only about 1700 new words on the screen. Ugh. Remember that “discipline and time in the chair” thing I mentioned a day or two ago? Back to that.

11:40, back to the novel.

12:45, at last a good session. Still only about 2800 words on the day though. But time for a break. 1:05 back to the novel.

1:40, off for a break. 2:10, back to the novel.

A good final session and I made my word count. Unless the characters throw me a pretty severe curve ball, this will wrap up tomorrow. The denoument is pretty much all that’s left.

Back then.

Of Interest

Excuses and the Fine Art of Self Sabotage (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/excuses-and-the-fine-art-of-self-sabotage/). I told Dean I will assume his permission and cross-post this one to the big blog as a guest post. That’s how good it is.

Also, there are even more comments on Dean’s “A Question…” at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/a-question/#comments.

Fiction Words: 4101
Nonfiction Words: 730 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 4831

Writing of The Claim (SF novel)

Day 1…… 4391 words. Total words to date…… 4391
Day 2…… 3632 words. Total words to date…… 8023
Day 3…… 1416 words. Total words to date…… 9439
Day 4…… 2673 words. Total words to date…… 12112
Day 5…… 4284 words. Total words to date…… 16396
Day 6…… 3159 words. Total words to date…… 19555
Day 7…… 3834 words. Total words to date…… 23389
Day 8…… 4953 words. Total words to date…… 28342
Day 9…… 4982 words. Total words to date…… 33324
Day 10… 3618 words. Total words to date…… 36942
Day 11… 3133 words. Total words to date…… 40075
Day 12… 2964 words. Total words to date…… 43039
Day 13… 3410 words. Total words to date…… 46449
Day 14… 3285 words. Total words to date…… 49734
Day 15… 3460 words. Total words to date…… 53194
Day 16… 4251 words. Total words to date…… 57445
Day 17… 4283 words. Total words to date…… 61728
Day 18… 4101 words. Total words to date…… 65829

Total fiction words for the month……… 67457
Total fiction words for the year………… 67457
Total nonfiction words for the month… 14810
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 14810

Total words for the year (fiction and nonfiction)…… 82267