Author Kelly L. Stone Riffs on Unlocking Creativity and Answers Your Questions

Today is an excellent day at Promptly as we welcome author and licensed mental health counselor Kelly L. Stone to the blog. Alongside her novel Grave Secret, Kelly has written Time to Write: More Than 100 Professional Writers Reveal How to Fit Writing Into Your Busy Life, which was nominated for the American Society of Journalists and Authors Outstanding Book of 2008, and most recently, Thinking Write: The Secret to Freeing Your Creative Mind. Demonstrating how to tap into your subconscious for creative and writing purposes, the book also comes with a disc of guided meditations for writers.

With her unique approach to the art of writing, I checked in with Kelly about unlocking your subconscious, refilling the creative well and the makings of the best writing prompts. Kelly will also be doling out a copy of Thinking Write to a random commenter, so feel free to tap into her mind today with any questions you might have, or to respond to her writing prompt below. (The Comment function has been finicky, so if you are having difficulty posting, e-mail your question to writersdigest [at] fwmedia [dot] com marked “Attn: Zac” and I’ll make sure Kelly sees it.) For more, check out

What inspired your latest book?
I wrote Thinking Write as a companion to Time to Write, which teaches aspiring writers how to find time to write no matter how busy they are. After I finished that book, a lingering question remained in my mind, and that was as a licensed mental health counselor, was there a way for me to translate my understanding of the mind and how it works into a program that would help writers maximize their creativity? I wanted to find out if there was a way to help writers capitalize on limited writing time by teaching them how to get into a creative mind state quickly, easily and efficiently so that they could get the most bang for their writing buck. The answer was yes, and that’s what Thinking Write is about—how to capitalize on your limited writing time by using the power of your subconscious mind.

Is it common for writers to not be tapped into their full creative potentials?
As a general rule, yes. Everyone is familiar with the idea that we use only 10 percent of our brains. What this means is that the subconscious mind is virtually untapped as a resource for most creative people.

What’s the power of the subconscious mind when it comes to writing?
The power of the subconscious mind is truly amazing. It monitors and stores everything that goes on around and inside of you, all of the time. This information is permanent, and it is never forgotten. Details not available to the conscious mind as well as long lost memories are retrievable. These details and memories breathe life into your writing and spark unlimited creativity. Learning to access your subconscious greatly enhances your creativity because whereas the conscious mind is limited and can only attend to one thing at a time, the subconscious mind operates independently from your conscious mind’s limited field of attention. It is like a giant computer system with multiple input sources. Your subconscious is constantly recording all of the details of your life, both items that pass through your conscious field of attention and those items that your conscious mind misses entirely. It is a vast storehouse of information that offers an endless supply of creative ideas. These characteristics of the subconscious mind are what make it such a powerful ally to writers.  

What’s a key to unlocking it?
One key is related to brain waves. Certain brain wave states are associated with the subconscious mind and creativity, specifically the alpha wave state. Alpha waves occur when you are awake but in a state of focused concentration, such as meditation. Alpha waves are responsible for causing people to get “into the zone” and are documented to be linked to creativity.  Professional athletes have been capitalizing on the alpha wave state for decades to improve their performance. Music is a good way for writers to get the brain into an alpha wave state. Many of the bestselling authors I interviewed for Thinking Write use music as a way to unlock their creativity. What you do is choose music that matches the theme, tone or message of what you are writing and then listen to that music only when you write. Over time, you set up what is called a conditioned response to that particular song or playlist, and when you hear it, you trigger the alpha wave state and are automatically in touch with your subconscious mind and deeper levels of creativity.   

In terms of writing prompts, what are the best, most productive types?
Anything that resonates with you on a personal level offers a good opportunity for triggering your subconscious mind for memories and long-forgotten feelings that can enhance your writing.

What have you learned from the creative well running dry in the past, and how did you overcome it?
I learned that I need to take breaks from writing on a regular basis. Some people can write every day. I can’t and don’t. I am more productive in the long run when I take at least one day off each week from writing, even when I have a deadline. So I intentionally build in breaks into my weekly writing schedule. For me, time away from the writing allows me to refill the creative well, rest, get refocused, and when I come back the next day I am usually in a good place to keep going. Every writer’s process is different, and it’s important to figure out what works for you. If you need a break, take one. However, an important sidebar here is that if you spend too much time away from the writing you get out of the habit of writing, which leads to feeling more blocked and also leads to what I call The Big “R”—Resistance to Writing, which is a self-sabotaging behavior. It’s important to keep a balance between refilling the well and staying on task with the work.

Do you have any advice to keep your creativity going strong once you’ve tapped into it?
Ride the wave for as long as you can. In other words, if you use some of the techniques in Thinking Write and feel yourself getting into that ultra focused, highly creative state, keep writing for as long as possible. Also, be alert to messages from your subconscious throughout the day. It takes time to learn how your subconscious mind communicates with you; some people get hunches, others get dreams that offer an idea or solution, or ideas “pop” into their heads at odd times. That’s your subconscious trying to get information to you. The more in tune you get with your subconscious mind, the easier it will become for you to communicate with it. I have learned to keep a notebook in my purse in order to capture all those “aha” moments I get when I’m away from my desk but my subconscious mind is still working out a problem in the writing. Also, trust your instincts when it comes to your creativity. I’m not a seat-of-the-pants writer, but if a character just shows up on the page, I go with it. For example, when I was writing my novel Grave Secret, the character of Billy Powers literally walked onto the page one day. Turns out he was so integral to the plot that without him there was no story.   
What’s the best craft advice you can offer?
Write on a schedule. Don’t wait “until you feel like it,” because you’re never going to feel like it. Set aside time every week for writing (with built in time off if you need it) and then when that time arrives, sit down at your desk and write no matter what else is going on. That’s the only way to get words on the page, and as many of the authors I have interviewed say, you might write crap but you can edit crap. You can’t edit a blank page.

Courtesy of Kel
ly L. Stone, feel free to take the following prompts home or post your responses (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.

Scan your surroundings quickly and list the first three items that catch your eye; they might be the dining room table, the giant oak outside the window, and the discarded tennis shoes by the back door. Write a story incorporating those three items.


Bonus: This isn’t a prompt so much as it is a technique for accessing your subconscious mind via the hypnagogic state, a naturally occurring phase that happens right before deep sleep. I learned it from Dr. Raymond Moody, a psychiatrist who has studied the link between creativity and the subconscious. First, pose a question to your subconscious, such as “Subconscious, what is the next scene in my novel?” Then lie down and hold one arm straight up in the air. Try to doze off while you are holding you arm straight up, all the while focusing on your question. Do this for about 10 minutes or until you feel yourself dozing off and your arm getting limp. Sit up and immediately write down any thoughts, ideas or images that went through your mind while you were dozing, even if you don’t understand them, because they were provided by your subconscious mind.

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0 thoughts on “Author Kelly L. Stone Riffs on Unlocking Creativity and Answers Your Questions

  1. Martha W

    WooHoo! Thanks, Kelly! My addy is on its way to you… and I’m on my way to your blog. *grin*

    Mark- that is one fabulous story. Wow. And next time, my formatting will be different. White space was not my friend in this one. *sigh*

  2. Kelly L Stone

    Dorraine, on the CD that goes with Thinking Write there’s a meditation for relaxation.That is the foundation for accessing the subconscious mind.

    For books about mediation, I suggest "A Gradual Awakening" by Stephen Levine. It’s a classic.


  3. Mark James

    Kelly: Thanks for the prompt and the tips. I loved "you can’t edit a blank page"

    The three items: typing stand, a box of tissues, MP3 player

    I turned off my MP3 player and slid my head phones down. “What?”

    Tabitha glanced past my computer to the typing stand where I’d clipped a thick sheaf of hand written notes. “Still playing at being a cop?”

    My ex-wife was the one homicide I’d cheerfully do time for, a whole lot of time. “Still playing at being human?”

    “At least I have a paying audience.” She looked around my shabby office. “Your clients still paying between the sheets?”

    I rocked back in my chair, took off my glasses, rubbed my eyes. “You come to bring sunshine and roses into my life, or you want something?”

    “I need a favor.”

    “What? Kill your new husband, put him out of his misery?”

    “I’m being followed,” she said.

    I looked at her short skirt, the way it hugged her hips. The three inch heels made her long legs look like they never stopped. “Thought you liked it when weirdos follow you. Isn’t that how you found husband number three?”

    “His name’s Frank.”

    “Why don’t you tell Frank some guy’s following you?” I reached for the bottle of Pepsi on my desk. “Or is he only good for keeping you up all night?”

    She shot out of the seat on the other side of my desk, and for just a second, I saw the glint of real tears in her eyes. She was my ex-wife, and sometimes I wanted to throttle her ‘til her blue eyes popped out of her pretty head, but I couldn’t let her leave like that. “Tracy, come on, don’t.”

    I watched her walk back to the chair, watched her cross her long legs, even watched the way she bit her full lips.

    “It’s only at night. I never see him. But I know he’s there.”

    “What are you doing walking the streets at night?”

    She shot me a patented Tracy is Pissed look.

    “I’m serious. Frank bought you a BMW and a Porsche; he slums around in a Hummer. Where the hell are you walking to?”

    “You know I take my walks.”

    Yeah, I knew. When Tracy was stressed, when things were bad at home, she took long, long walks; sometimes for hours at a stretch.

    “You should maybe start taking them in the day time.”

    “I can’t sleep at night.”

    “The dreams start again?”

    “Worse than ever.”

    Only one thing gave her nightmares. “Thought you gave up that Madame Tracy Ouija board crap?”

    “A couple of the neighbors, they asked me and – -” She shrugged.

    “And now you got a ghost following you around.”

    I grabbed a tissue from the box on my desk. “Here.”

    She took it and dabbed at her eyes. “I didn’t know who else to go to.”

    Only a few people knew I Banished ghosts on the side. “Meet me at the park at midnight. Bring the board. I’ll Banish him for you.”

    She smiled and suddenly I was looking at the girl I’d married right out of high school, my first love.

    “You owe me. When you divorce this one, I get the BMW.”


    She wasn’t crying anymore, so I’d wait a year or two on the BMW. Why not?

  4. Martha W

    Kelly, Your advice is positively stellar. 🙂 "Set aside time every week for writing (with built in time off if you need it) and then when that time arrives, sit down at your desk and write no matter what else is going on." — I’ve got one word here, NaNo. Or is that two words? Or maybe just an acronym? Oh well. Time management and keeping to a routine helps me move forward. I find that the closer to my writing time I get – the more my brain kicks into gear…
    *grin* Martha

    Today’s Prompt:
    Take three things you see and write a story about them… Pumpkins, coats, towels, oh my!

    James zipped up his coat as he stepped out the back door into the endless abyss of the night. He inhaled deep, pulling the crisp air into his lungs. Nothing beats the outdoors, he thought. As he walked toward his car – and his long awaited boys night out – the wind picked up, almost fierce as it whipped his blonde hair around his face, stinging his cheeks.
    The first heartbeat of sound had him slowing his stride to listen more carefully. Again, a noise floated on the wind, a flapping sound. Like wings.
    "What the hell?"
    Shaking his head, he turned back to round the corner to the front of the house. Someone had to check out the sound and it looked like it would be him. The eerie fluttering reached his ears causing him to fade into the shadows, searching for the source.
    What he finally glimpsed in the darkness froze him on the spot.
    "Holy crap," the words flitted away on the cool air whirling around him. He blinked hard hoping the large creature would simply disappear. Every muscle was rigid, ready for flight if the bat decided to come his way. Feeling the wall with his hands, afraid to look away, James crept toward the porch.
    After what felt like years, he reached the edge and grasped the railing. Screw the steps, he needed out of here. He flung himself up and over, landing in front of a large leering face… that was attached to the hulking body looming over him. James screamed and stumbled backwards down the steps, drawing the monstrous bat in his direction.
    It swooped up into the sky and dove straight at his face. He felt the edges of whisper soft wings snap around his head as he curled protectively in a ball on the ground.
    Suddenly the porch light popped on and the door creaked open, shedding more light down the stairs to spill at his feet. It was like heaven itself was coming to his aid. Relief flooded his body as he launched himself to his feet and ran toward his wife. Following her calls to safety.
    As he breached the doorway he drew up short as he realized she wasn’t actually calling him. She was laughing. Hysterically. Bent over at the waist, holding onto the scarecrow on the– Oh hell.
    A bad feeling seeped into the pit of his stomach as he turned to search for what had attacked him. That beast had to be out there somewhere. Right? But what he found hiding in the bushes was the towel they had left on the clothes line.
    Her peels of laughter echoed behind him as he climbed the stairs toward their room, his night out with his buddies forgotten. He lowered his head to watch the floor as it passed under his feet. She was never going to let this go.
    He just knew it.

  5. Kelly L Stone

    Thank you to everyone who posted a comment! I appreciate it. I hope the techniques help! Perhaps try the arm technique when you can take a nap alone in the house! ha ha.

    If anyone has additional questions or comments beyond tonight, feel free to email me directly at

    I also post weekly creativity tips on my blog at

    I will post the winner of the book drawing first thing in the morning in case there are some night owls out there who still need to leave a comment. 🙂

    All best,

  6. Tawny Weber

    What an inspiring and motivational post – thank you, Kelly for the great ideas. I’m a huge fan of accessing the subconscious mind for as much help as possible and am excited to be taking your workshop. I’ll be ordering your books asap for more ideas, as well.

  7. Linda Cacaci

    Wonderful and informative interview! I have Kelly’s first book and I love it. There is so much that goes into writing those words that a non-writer doesn’t even knpw about.

  8. Kim H. Striker

    This is so timely – I said yes when a friend asked me to help out part time until they filled a position – that was three months ago and today I worked nearly 13 hours. I am a full-time writer but the longer I spend in the corporate world the dryer the well seems to be. Thanks so much! Kim

  9. Dana

    So interesting! Thanks for all of the great insight and information. I’m definitely going to have to check out those books! I’ll be trying the arm raised doze off this afternoon too. I could really use some answers for my novel. Excellent!

  10. Gina

    Interesting article! I think my boyfriend subconsciously uses the alpha waves, since he always listens to hard trance music while he does his computer programing, but I never catch him listening to it outside of his office. As creative as he is, I’m definitely going to incorporate that more into my daily routine.

  11. Lisa Haselton

    Hi Kelly,

    Great post. I’m always intrigued to learn more from my subconscious, and rely on my ‘night mind’ and dreams. I’ll go to bed and pose a question, then lay with pen in hand over a notebook. The answer usually comes just as I’m drifting off. And I have one of those handy pens with a light in it so I don’t have to scribble in the dark or go blind turning on the light. 🙂

    This is the first I’ve heard of the arm trick for getting a burst of ideas and I’m going try it.

    I’m also going to pursue the prompt with the 3 items: bicycle, lawn chair, love seat. (I live in an apartment and lots of stuff are in the living room!)

    Thanks for sending out the note that you were doing this today! And thank you Zach for hosting Kelly on your blog.


  12. Denise J. Lane

    Lately my husband has been coming to bed at night finding me asleep with whatever book I was reading and the tiny booklight laying somewhere near me. I can only imagine what he’ll do when he finds me in a quasi-sleep state with my arm straight up in the air. He’ll probably call for the men in the white coats. I’ll make sure to have pen and paper ready for ride.

  13. Dorraine

    Excellent interview, Zac!

    Kelly, thanks so much for the insight regarding creativity and how to harness it. When you mentioned information coming through dreams, I related to that. I was once stuck on the 50 page mark on a novel, and the story wouldn’t budge. I had the outline. I’d done my homework. That night I had a dream regarding the next scene, and it was totally something I hadn’t expected, a twist, and the whole novel fell into place after that. Our minds are amazing. I’d sure like to get to that other 90 percent!

    Your book, Thinking Write, will make excellent Christmas gifts for two of my writing girls. Of course I’ll need one also.

    Quick questions. Are you saying ALL memories are retrievable? And if so, is the best source through Meditation? In your book, Thinking Write, do you teach meditation, and if not, are there any books you would recommend? Thanks much and best of luck with your books!


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