Listen to your subconscious when writing

2013_November_subconscious“Things will come to you and you’re not going to know exactly how they fit in. You have to trust in the way they all fit together, that your subconscious knows what you’re doing.”

I came across this fantastic quote about writing by acclaimed American author Donna Tartt. A New York Times Book Review article from 20 October 2013, interviewed Ms Tartt  prior to the release of her new book, The Goldfinch.

Tartt, who shies away from publicity, became an instant celebrity when her first novel, The Secret History, about murderous Classics students on an idyllic New England college campus, was published in 1993.

I love this view into the author’s creative process. When you start writing a novel, you often have images and bits and pieces of the story. Often, you’re not quite sure how they will weave themselves together.

I’m not a believer in a strict outline, because I like imagery and random ideas to work their way into the story. In writing, I’m always amazed where the figment of an idea or an image can take me, introducing new storylines or new characters. Therefore, a quote like this naturally appeals to me. I like the idea in trusting our subconscious to understand what we’re doing, even if we, as writers,  might not have reached the same conclusions in our active thought processes.

And you, writers? What do you think of Ms Tartt’s advice to trust in our subconscious guiding us in developing our stories? Have you done this in the past?


  1. Catherine on November 29, 2013 at 8:20 am

    I agree! A huge part of writing I suspect might be just allowing the subconscious the space to take hold. I never plan. I mean I might jot down plot ideas for a story and then veer off. I love this juggling process – thinking you are on the right track, then challenging your thoughts constantly. In fact I even treasure a long drive because I know ideas will come to me, or be trashed!

    Looking forward to reading Ms. Tartt’s new book. The Secret History was captivating!

  2. julitownsend on November 29, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I agree, too, and I agree with Catherine about the pleasures of a long drive to allow my writing thoughts to run amok. I plan, but I love it when an idea comes to me when after I’ve begun the writing. I always allow those ideas to enter, find a place and then wait for beta readers to tell me if they work or not.

  3. Julia on November 29, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    Yes, I agree with you. It works that way.
    The best proof is the fact that I wake up at night with answers and sentences that come from who knows where. It is a very mysterious process. And fascinating…

  4. kimberlysullivan on December 2, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Hello ladies – thanks for all your great comments. It’s good to hear all your experiences with subconscious thoughts bubbling below the surface and working their way into your story building process. I loved this Donna Tartt observation – and felt she really hit the nail on the had. Or perhaps it’s just justification from a hopeless daydreamer. : ) Happy writing (and dreaming) to all!

  5. shweta0110 on December 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I feel its more natural to let the ideas flow. I also think the whole writing process becomes more exciting when we let the story discover itself… 🙂

    • kimberlysullivan on December 6, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Great points. I love how that story discovers itself, and I always wonder if too many outlines can hinder that. Or maybe I’m simply justifying my lack of meticulous planning. : )

      • shweta0110 on December 6, 2013 at 12:44 pm

        hmm…I guess the planning part is like putting ‘Alice in Corporate School’ instead of Wonderland… if you understand what I mean… 😉

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