by Marc W. Johnson
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Have you ever been told to “sleep on it,” or if you walk away from a problem the solution will come to you? I have heard these as well and always wondered how they would help. I have read articles claiming that the subconscious mind is always working, even when you are sleeping. I have often wondered if the subconscious is where dreams come from, that if it has nothing to do, the unconscious mind decides to entertain itself and either gives you a good dream, or scares the heck out of you for fun. Many years ago, those phrases got me thinking. What do they actually mean?

I had many years in information technology before I started writing. In IT I would run across issues all the time, sometimes they were quite difficult. Over that career I built quite the arsenal of solutions to various problems, because in IT there can be many solutions to one problem. There was this one in particular I had been working on for hours. I had fired every salvo I could think of, I had searched the web to no avail and then hit a brick wall. My last resort was to get the vendor involved. After several hours on the phone, they weren’t able to fix it either. It was then that I thought maybe I just need to step away from it and let them figure it out. After all, I had tried everything I already knew. Perhaps all I needed to do was to sleep on it.

So I did. I would like to say that I received an epiphany that bolted me out of a sound sleep and sat me straight up, but alas, that didn’t happen. As the vendor worked on a solution, I had a progress call scheduled with them the following day. I was at my desk designing an IT project plan while waiting for that call when out of the blue a thought popped into my head. As I stated, I had searched the web receiving no love, but this time I searched with different criteria, which in turn led me down a few dead ends but eventually landed me on an obscure IT message board, and right there, in black and white, was my problem and how to fix it. So, I tried that fix and within a few clicks, problem solved. Even though it didn’t work every time in my IT career, I still had questions as to why it did when it did.

Being the inquisitive type, these just led to more questions. Was the solution in my mind the whole time? Was it able to piece together experiences in my career that guided me to type in that search criteria? Did my subconscious give me the tool to solve my issue? On and off I continued to try and use my subconscious for problem solving.

Laid off in 2008, with no viable leads, no work for years; there was no reason to use my process. I don’t know if my subconscious could’ve gotten me a job, but I doubted it. Since writing has always been a passion of mine I thought I would give it a go and see what shook out. As a writer, I outline my stories. No matter how well I think I do this, I always tend to write in plot and character ideas as I go along. Many times that leads me into a corner with no way out. I began using my process to write my first novel “Legacy,” a grim update of the fairytale of Red Riding Hood, and my most recent publication “HUSKER” that I self-published on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books, and I trapped myself into a lot of corners.

With “Legacy” I couldn’t figure out how to plausibly get out of the horrors I had written myself into. Nothing I wrote seemed to work, or even be believable. I would spend hours writing, only to read it the next day and realize I was deleting more than I was keeping. Then one day there I was, sitting in front of my computer, starring at words that had no cohesion, ringing my hands and fretting over failure before I had even truly begun to try.

Finally, after that long day of writing, and somewhat depressed, I went to bed. Although beat, but not beaten, I thought of my old friend, my subconscious. I actually thought, I’ll let you figure it out, I’m going to sleep. I implemented my process once again.

If you, as kid, had to write “I will not hurl spitballs in class” on a chalkboard after school, you’ll understand. I settle my head on my pillow. I take several deep breaths. I clear my mind of all thought and imagery, leaving a void. I slowly imagine a blank chalkboard, and then, I imagine my problem being written on the board boiled down into a short phrase. I write it until I drift into sleep.

The next day, a way to fix one of the issues popped into my head, it wasn’t the one I wrote on my board, but it led to it. This happens a lot when I do this, the idea just – forms and then things seem to connect into other issues that make sense. I was able to fix the story issues in two weeks. I don’t know the why, or the how this has worked easier for me over the years in my writing, but it has. Perhaps, since writing fiction is a creative process, it is easier for the subconscious to freelance because there are no boundaries. Maybe, the answers are there and it just takes a little push to open the door to find them. I honestly do not have an answer. What I can tell you, and anyone who asks me, is that I am convinced the brain is truly a magnificent marvel of creation, and we should use it more.

Marc W. Johnson
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