Consciously Unconscious

Our guest writer today is Darcy Walker. Darcy is a writer, photographer, and all around creative person. We know Darcy through working with her as a senior copywriter at Belief Agency, where she helps us shape this Creative Valhalla project. We get to have a lot of fun and interesting conversations with her, so we are excited she agreed to write this week’s blog post about the creative power of the subconscious!

Sometimes creating something inspired is more about letting go of your mind than trying to steer it in the direction of a good idea.

Let me explain.

We’ve all been held captive by blank [insert medium here] syndrome. I’m a copywriter, so I often find myself staring at a blank Google doc trying to create perfectly constructed sentences. I start by thinking about what I want people to feel; then, I combine words until I feel a spark. It’s textbook brainstorming.

There’s a big problem with this method. When we try to force good ideas out of our heads (i.e., storming the brain), we end up censoring the ones with the most energy—the unfiltered ones. In a world where everything’s been done and nothing is new, perhaps the only unique thing each of us has to offer is our raw unconsciousness. When we think too hard about what thoughts get to leave our brain, we intellectualize that raw unconsciousness out of existence.

In writing, the antidote for this is freewriting. It’s a sort of meditative, stream-of-consciousness style (or rather, non-style) of writing. The only rules are to keep typing and not stop for anything—grammar, structure, syntax. The idea is that the longer you type, the deeper the connection to your unconscious will grow. It’s not about what you write; it’s about where it comes from. 

Freewriting isn’t a novel idea. Its documented roots go back to the 19th century when spiritual mediums used the “automatic” writing method to communicate with supernatural spirits during seances. William Butler Yeats later picked up the technique and employed it in his daily writing practice. Since then, numerous writers have attested to the magic of freewriting. In Jack Kerouac’s “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose,” he states that successful freewriting requires the writer to “write without consciousness in a semi-trance.”

Creating from the unconscious isn’t a novel idea, either. Artists throughout history have rejected the learned practice of seeking approval from the conscious self. Surrealism—an artistic movement but, more broadly, a philosophy—was a downright revolt against the constraints of rational thinking. Influenced by Freud and led by André Breton, surrealists (like Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, and many more) sought to reveal the happenings of the unconscious mind through art. From the 1920s to the 1950s, surrealists used drawing, painting, and writing techniques to tap into the caverns of the mind—even collaborative games (like exquisite corpse, which you may want to put in your back pocket for your next long car ride). 

The list of household names who’ve used their unconscious to fuel creativity is long—much longer than the handful mentioned here. And when you consider their creations—John Coltrane’s 30 minutes of jumbled-up jazz, The Beatles’ Revolver, Salvador Dalí’s paintings—it’s hard not to feel bad for all those times you’ve tried to wrangle your imagination into productivity. Maybe letting the mind float directionless is just the thing it needs to turn that blank canvas into something truly great. 

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