Last night on Zoom, we did a writing exercise exploring Act I of our novels, spending five minutes writing down our beats—the turning points that mark the arc of our stories. Our objective was to try to capture what we know about our beats without thinking too much. To make our best guesses without worrying about what’s missing. To trust the process that the holes will be filled in due time. I jotted my beats down and forgot about them.
At 6 a.m. this morning on the meditation cushion, sentences started forming for a new opening inspired by the exercise. After I walked the dog, had a bowl of cereal, and played Wordle, I sat down and wrote out the ideas as if I was taking dictation.
Don’t you love that, when your unconscious seems to spontaneously compose sentences, and all you must do is write them down?
But the truth is this flow of ideas from some mysterious depth wasn’t spontaneous at all. The night before I did the beats exercise. And every day I’ve been putting in the time, free writing, beat outlining, riffing on prompts, making space for the unconscious to do what it does so well—developing the story. This is the way. Telling my mind this is important and letting my unconscious generate the ideas. Call and response.
If you build it, they will come should be reframed for writers as this:
If you make space for the unconscious, it will provide.