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

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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 freeyourcreativemind.blogspot.com.

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.

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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.

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WRITING PROMPTS
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.

and,

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.