Noise, Creativity and the Unconscious

On one of my recent trips, as I was sitting in the airline club at 5:30 in the morning with the news blaring out of every TV, I started to wonder how people get started each day with this in the background. 

I gave up watching or reading the news eight months ago after realizing how badly it influenced my writing. As I sat there that morning, I saw that not only had the media not changed but at 5:30 in the morning, they were actually worse.  I don’t think there’s anything you can do to yourself to affect your mood more unwittingly than listen to the drivel that comes out of a news person’s mouth.  If you must, at least read it at your own leisure.  Having it thrust on you, is a bad precedent.  It’s distracting. If you really want to see how much they are trying to emotionally affect you, turn down the volume and study the body language.

It’s tough for me to sit here and shut it out like I’m able to at home, or in a hotel room. 

As I sat there, I saw the “no cell phone” room.  I should have gone in there. 

We can’t be quiet

We have this obsession with noise.  We can’t seem to shut down and experience quiet.  I drove to the airport that morning (40 min) without the radio on, with nothing but the noise of the car (it’s a loud car) and was able to think about my story. 

I recently finished Dorothea Brande’s book on writing, and the one thing I haven’t been doing is putting myself in a place of solitude and “no words” as she puts it, and thinking about my story.  The combination of thinking about STORY and no external influences makes things take shape.  The unconscious is pretty incredible.  I came up with several new ideas and scenes to really help flush the story out.  Right now it’s an idea, it needs to be a story – beginning middle and end before I sit down to write it. 

Silence isn’t just golden, it’s productive!

Something I had known but not realized was that being silent, and focusing on one thing yields results from your unconscious mind.  Per Ms. Brande, the idea is to be absent from words.  So no one talking, no TV, no reading, no words at all.  Clear and focus the mind on the story – not the words.  I’ve never done that before, and on a quick drive to the airport, my “story” made significant progress, at least in my mind. 

I’ve been using Dorothea’s advice and methods for decades without really realizing it.  I initially read the first few chapters of her book when I was in my late teens and early 20s.  I was never able to get past the first part about forcing yourself to write.  My demons always won.  Now that I’ve conquered those, I finished the book, and I should have done so years ago. 

I taught my sons about the power of the mind using a simple experiment with string and a washer.  You tie the washer to the end of a two-foot string so it hangs tight and straight.  You position it so you’re staring straight down the string at the washer.  Now, with your mind only, you have your eyes trace a clockwise circle.  Inevitably the washer starts to swing that way.  Then, you reverse it.  It’s a great exercise to show that once you set your goals and can focus your mind on something, the rest of your body will help.   

I had forgotten where I picked that up.  It was in Dorothea’s book. 

Genius hides in the unconscious

A lot of her advice is around harnessing the unconscious.  This is where genius lives, she claimed.  I can’t disagree.  I’m looking forward to trying this method to create new ideas in the mornings.  Or maybe while on a plane.  I normally have my noise-canceling headset, and everyone is sleeping because – drones.  I normally fly early, and I’ll be one of the only ones not sleeping or playing games.  One more benefit of getting up at 4 AM?  My 6:30 flight doesn’t require me to get up early.  So it’s still very quiet on the plane.  No one is even playing solitaire yet.   

I always wonder what people must think of me.  Furiously hammering away on my iPad, clearly not doing emails.  What a freak.  I can live with that.  I’m working on caring less about what people think about me, but to be honest, that’s easier to do when I’m not in public. 

So much of creativity has to come from somewhere.  Why not the unconscious?  Clearly, shit is going on in my head whether I want it to or not.  Things happen all over our bodies that we don’t think about.  We breathe.  Our heart beats, etc.  Of course, our brain keeps being active, keeps responding to stimuli, keeps creating and doing “what if” scenarios behind our eyes. 

I’m excited about the blooming story I have going.  I am not going to disservice it by talking about it, though.  It’s the same story that’s been stuck in my head for a while, although it’s taken a few different minor plot turns that have made it better, more unique, and more mine.  I may even try to write a scene for it tomorrow morning if my unconscious mind is done percolating yet.  No need to rush that. 

Clear the mind to focus

Harnessing the unconscious is definitely something I need to refocus on.  That’s where I find the ideas when I clean the litter box.  It’s my unconscious mind that puts those forth because it’s bored or disgusted by piss and poop.  Either way, that’s what spawns my idea well.  I need to figure out if I can sit still each morning and just think, if that will have the same results – or better.  I predict it will be much better.  Why?  Because the morning the drive in, with me focusing on keeping my thoughts on the story, yielded almost immediate results.  I started with a premise and a character but didn’t really have a story arc.  I now have a beginning and end ending in mind, as well as a situation that explains and fits into the overall storyline. All that from 30 minutes of clear thinking. 

I’ve been a big proponent of clearing the mind for a decade or so now.  A friend of mine, who I dearly appreciate and respect, has always worked himself to the bone.  At one point he stressed himself out so badly that he ended up taking a three-month sabbatical and backpacked South America.  A time after that he was rushed to the hospital thinking he was having a heart attack, which it wasn’t.  He had to calm himself down.  A few months after the second incident I ran into him and he was calm and collected.  We talked about our lives and work.  We had some similarities, but I never worked myself into a frenzy like that. 

He recommended meditation.  What have I got to lose, I thought.  I tried it, loved it, and have been a fan on and off ever since.  I find a 20-minute session is refreshing and can really clear my head.  Then I found something better – driving on a racetrack.  The only problem I had with meditation is that I have to keep my mind focused, and some days, that’s a challenge.  On the racetrack, there are consequences for not focusing, so it forces me to think about only one thing – my driving. I have to focus on where I brake, where I turn, where I shift, etc.  A 20-minute session completely clears my mind because I only have one thing going at that time. But I can’t think about a story on the track.

The focus needed for writing is similar. Once I have a story, I can let my mind roll around with it, play with it, kick it here and there, but it keeps my brain focused on only one thing at a time – the story.  It’s early days of me trying this and rediscovering the power of the unconscious mind, but I already have very good feelings about this method as a way to take my writing to the next level. 

For 2019, I want to focus more on creativity and less on grumpy old dude ranting.  You’re welcome.  That’s not to say that there won’t be a lot of grumpy old guy characters shuffling around muttering in my stories – there might be – but at least there should be a story in there somewhere.

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3 thoughts on “Noise, Creativity and the Unconscious

  1. I have been a big proponent of making time for myself, it’s tough, it’s on a daily basis.
    The biggest one for me is the two hours when I wake up and caffeinate, there is no music, there are very little sounds, maybe a cat purring by my side, but that solitude for two hours is invigorating, thought provoking, and it seems to give me positive light for the day.
    Along with that, I rarely if any, turn the radio on in my car, even though my commute is on;y a 1/3 of yours, that 10min seems a lot longer in my head than it actually is.
    It’s funny you mention about you thoughts reeling, a day before I read this the same thing ran across mine, why? Because they do the same in my head, and I wondered if it was just me or whether other people have all these fleeting thoughts and just don’t talk about them, well I do, even when I’m working while my hands are moving the mind that would be idle it thing about all sorts of stuff.
    It’s great to hear that you dumped TV 8 months ago, I did it 20+ years ago and feel freer because of it, I now have control to be able to watch what I want and get news where I want, I don’t have to have any of it rammed down my throat, funny though, that when I take a trip and there is a TV in the hotel room, I’ll turn it on and then be happily enamored that I’m not really missing any thing at all.
    If you have to have some sort of involuntary distraction, I prefer music, and then I fill in the visual, with something like a magazine or open a web browser.


    1. Thanks! I dumped TV a long time ago, as in cable, satellite, etc. This year I stopped watching TV, movies, etc. I only watch a little bit on the plane, but the time I used to spend on weekends watching movies, or shows, has been shelved so I can do something productive. Agreed on the TV being not missed. I do miss some shows, and a good movie now and then. This year, I’m going to allow some of that back in, but from the aspect of research for the story, not for pure entertainment. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. To kind of paraphrase, since what I do for a living comes second nature, it’s easy to let my hands do the work which leaves my brain idle, when this happens, I’m able to think about other things, point in case, here recently is what I want to write about.

    The idle mind is the Devil’s chainsaw !

    Liked by 1 person

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