Thursday, November 12, 2009

Eric Brown's Ten Tips for Aspiring Writers

Science fiction author Eric Brown has posted a set of ten (well, tenish) tips for writers on the blog for Solaris Books, and while in general it's a worthy list, the same sort of thing you'll often see established writers trot out for the neophytes, he says one thing in particular that I found interesting. It was second in his countdown.
2. Trust in the subconscious. Beginning writers are beset by fear. I was. I overcame the fear - i.e., the doubt that I had anything to say, the tools to say anything - by writing and writing and trusting in the subconscious. Write long enough and the old SC kicks in. Try it.
Check out the rest of Brown's list for the rest of his advice, but this one I thought might merit discussion. I know that I have often been rescued from some nettlesome plot point by ideas that bubbled up my from subconscious, or discovered at the eleventh hour that some part of my brain was working out the mechanics of a plot without me being consciously aware of it. I've set up mysteries without knowing the answer, only to discover that the obvious solution was in front of me all along, and more than that, I had been seeding clues as I went along.

I think that learning to trust your own instincts, or to rely on the unconscious parts of your brain while writing, is an important step in the development of any writer. What about the rest of the Tick-Tock Gang? Is this something that resonates with you?


  1. My twist on invoking the subconscious is this: I almost always find myself stymied if I try to progress something like a story outline (or even a scene) in my head without actually writing it down in prose form. I can brainstorm and mull and refine in my head but sooner or later (almost always sooner), I'll hit a wall. Sitting down and letting my fingers do the thinking creates things that my brain alone never would. And usually, on review, I find that those subconscious runs generate the best writing.

    And though I know this to be true for me, I still all too often sit around trying to work out that next, unattainable level of detail before I start to commit to words.

  2. I'm like Andrew. The inspiration doesn't come unless I'm working. The solution to a problem doesn't always arrive right when I'm typing -- though that is when it strikes most often -- but it doesn't come at all unless I'm actively engaged with the story and working on it every day. The subconscious is like a prisoner in the basement that goes silent if I don't keep it fed. And when that happens I have no choice but to go down there burn its instep with cigarettes until it finally screams and starts talking to me again.

    Uh, that metaphor may have gotten away from me a bit. I blame the prisoner.

  3. I think that you have to trust in your instincts and hope that you have gotten all of the bad work out of your computer or pen. I tend to do a rough outline and then just jump in and wing it. So the final project does not always look just like the outline, but it usually works better as a stand alone piece of art.

    In a recent piece of work, I had the masked heroine get in a fight and drop something she cannot retrieve. Much later when she is working at her day job, the villain puts that object on the table between the two of them and smiles like he knows who she really is. Her mind races. "Did I leave a finger print on that? Is there a traceable serial number? Does he know who I am?"

    That creepy scene zips along because of the tension created because she had carelessly dropped something earlier. Those moments always work better when you don't have to go back in and add plot points.

    Due to the serial nature of comics, this is not always possible. I recently wrote a four- issue mini- series for a publisher and turned them all in within a couple of weeks. The editor said that it was a joy to get the whole thing at once, because she could go over it backwards and forwards. (And she did.) In comics, if the pages are already drawn, it is usually too late to go back and 'seed the clouds'.

    When I trust my subconscious, it sounds like this...