My Shattered Subconscious
DEFRAGMENTING my subconscious. This was the not super lofty, totally manageable, writing-adjacent goal I set at the outset of 2020. After reading this article by author/environmentalist Jeff VanderMeer in December of 2019, I realized many of the frustrations I was experiencing with my writing process were rooted in an unconscious mistreatment of my imagination.
VanderMeer suggests a writer can train the subconscious to deliver gifts. This was the first time I’d read something about the functioning of the imagination articulated so clearly. Of course I’d felt a flash of an idea while in the shower or folding laundry. I knew what it felt like to have my subconscious deliver a gift, but I didn’t realize it was a phenomenon that could be cultivated by living a certain type of life. A life focused on taking care of the imagination.
According to VanderMeer, with the right training, a writer’s subconscious can solve problems at both a macro and micro level — whether it’s a theme or situation you want to write about or a specific problem in your work that needs solving — but he offered this tip with the following caveat:
Of course, this won’t work if you’re fragmented, which is to say limiting social media and time in front of screens, when possible, is very important to de-fragging your subconscious, too. This isn’t a luddite position — it’s more or less established science at this point. If, too, like me, you can be obsessive, it can be important to wall yourself off from exterior things that distress, like the news. All of that “noise” is otherwise competing in your mind with what you want to get done writing-wise — even if it’s the noise you want to write about, or the news.
At the time of this discovery, I’d been plodding along on a draft of my novel for the previous year. I was stalling as I approached the MIDDLE. No matter how many hours my bum was in the chair, progress was unsatisfyingly slow. Indecision paralyzed me with each new scene. A layer of doubt accumulated on my laptop, preventing my fingers from gaining purchase on the keys. I’d type, hit backspace, get pissed off. Reliably, my inner Ursula would sashay into my headspace to tell me I was a stupid waste of space before tightening the tentacles until I tapped out for the day. Poor unfortunate soul.
My logical, talky brain was doing way too much of the work, and I wondered why my subconscious wasn’t pulling its weight.
I started paying attention to what my subconscious was delivering to me during runs, while I was driving or washing the dishes after dinner…Interestingly, because I was totally wrapped up in (ahem: okay, obsessed with) posting about writing on Instagram at the time I zeroed in on this meta-awareness of my thoughts, I noticed most of my “gifts” came to me as social media posts (#amwritingInstagramcaptions). It was no wonder my characters had stopped talking to me. I assumed using only one social media service was a safe bet, but it didn’t matter. I was hyper-fragmented.
So, at the beginning of 2020, I made it my intention to slow my consumption of media (social, podcasts, news), reduce my time in front of screens and spend more time daydreaming. I was even so brave as to announce to the world that I was not, under any circumstances, coming back to Instagram until I finished my draft.
It worked. I stopped thinking about Instagram. My characters started talking to me again. My dreamspace before I woke up each morning was flooded with the narrative that set me up for the day’s writing session. Dare I say, I’d even accessed a bit of that elusive flow. My imagination was back in working order.
Then a few *things* happened in the spring and the summer and, oh, yes, in the fall and I guess you could go as far as to say they are still happening now. Things that made turning away from the news irresponsible and unsafe. Things that made eliminating screen time detrimental to my kids’ education and disastrous to my mental health.
Progress on my novel slowed to a stop once again.
And it would be so, so easy to blame my lack of progress on the simple fact that I’d lost nearly 20 hours of creative time every week because my four year old daughter and seven year old son were home from school. But, my time wasn’t the only thing 2020 snatched away. The chaos of this past year also up and stole my subconscious just as I was learning how to treat it right.
I’m grateful beyond measure that one of the most precious things 2020 took from me is something I’m able to get back. My heart aches for those who were not so lucky.
DEFRAGMENTING my subconscious. This is my not super lofty, totally manageable, writing-adjacent goal for 2021. If I’ve learned anything about what it means to be a writer it’s that the only thing to do is begin again. Over and over and over, we begin again.