The Tooth Fairy is a Sham! Or Is It?

Do sharks believe in the Tooth Fairy?

Do sharks believe in the Tooth Fairy?

Magical Gifts and Growing Older

Today is my eldest son’s birthday. I would not have been surprised yesterday if my husband had convened a secret gathering involving anyone other than the birthday boy. I was surprised when my husband told me that we needed to meet with the eldest without the younger kids involved.

When my son came into my bedroom, he was in tears. We closed the doors and huddled, my husband, myself, and this crying boy. I asked why he was crying and he said, “I think the Tooth Fairy is a sham.” He went on to explain that he had lost a tooth the day before, put it under his pillow, and not received anything from the tooth fairy – and that this was the second time this had happened. This was the first I had heard about either of these teeth. The tooth fairy had not been notified of the need to deliver.

With care and compassion, I explained that the Tooth Fairy was a game that parents play to help young children deal with the bizarre experience of losing a tooth when they are too young to really understand that this is an inevitable and miraculous part of growing up.

We promised him that we will continue to give him money for his teeth as long as he keeps the secret from the younger kids in the family. It was clear that the loss of the money was far more important to him than any betrayal of his belief in the Tooth Fairy.

I was not surprised.

It Started with Santa

This child started questioning the logistics of Santa Claus at 4. But, he wanted to believe. He wanted the magic. He didn’t want to doubt.

When he was 6, he watched The Polar Express. At the end of the movie, the hero talks about the bells on Santa’s sleigh: “At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe. As the credits rolled, my son scrunched up his face, clenched his fists, and conjured up as much conviction as he could muster and said, “I believe.” Watching him, it was clear he was committed to believing at all costs.

Since then, he has studiously avoided any fiction or logic that might detract from the possibility that Santa and the Tooth Fairy might exist. Willful denial has been the order of the day.

But, the failure of the Tooth Fairy to deliver when Mom and Dad were not informed was too much for him to fight. Reality won, as it should for all of us eventually.

What Now?

I am assuming the death of belief in the Tooth Fairy will also mean the death of belief in Santa Claus. But, I don’t expect my son to tell me about this change in belief.

I am expecting Santa will continue to have exactly the same role in our lives as he has had since we became a family with kids – an excuse for the adults to give the kids extra presents.

I am expecting my eldest son will feel a growing sense of pride and superiority that he is in on the secret and that he will play up the magic for his siblings. In fact, now he knows it is game we play for their enjoyment, I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes more elaborate in his support of the magic. Having moved from willful denial to game play, he can let his imagination run wild again. And he just might.

Until one day, some time in the future, my children will all know about the magical games their parents have played and we will invent new ways of creating family magic and gift giving rituals.

The Tooth Fairy is Not a Sham

The Tooth Fairy may not be real, but the game brings joy. Young children are magical thinkers. The Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus enrich the magical thinking years and give people who have developed beyond magical thinking a chance to revisit the wonder of childhood.

And that is a special magic all its own.

Creativity and Spirit

I am a skeptical agnostic, and I recognize that in creative play, I have experiences that many would call mystical or spiritual. This aspect of my work is becoming more important to the coaching work I am doing, and I expect that I will start writing about it more. This post looks at the fundamental relationship between play and spirituality.



What is spirituality?

In modern usage, it refers to the interior experience of connecting to that which is beyond our concrete experience, to that which appears set-apart, worthy of veneration; spiritual experiences seems to connect us to a way of being in the world that is better or more fundamentally important than our normal conscious experience.

Often, there is a sense of being part of a whole, part of the pattern of the universe, connected to that which is outside us.

The individual, interior experience is what makes spirituality distinct from religion. Religion is organized and institutional, and is therefore subject to all of the political realities and constraints of institutions.

In the modern world, the development of secular humanism as a major political foundation in pluralistic, democratic society’s has removed the society-wide reach of religion’s moral authority. And, the modern, western culture of personal development has pushed the inner experience to the fore of our self-understandings.

Spiritual experiences are interpreted through an individual’s cultural lens. If as a child, you were taught that the beauty of a rainbow was a manifestation of God’s love and care for the world, you are likely to use that language to interpret future. As you grow, if your concept of God expands to include the mystery, awe, and connection to a greater whole that naturally arise in humans from time to time, then your spiritual life will probably remain strong within your cultural tradition. If your concept of God is not allowed to grow to encompass your experiences, both spiritual and intellectual, the modern world is open to the possibility of leaving a religious tradition and either finding a new one or setting out on a path without organized religion.

If, on the other hand, you grew up without religious training, you will interpret naturally occurring, spiritual experiences as simply part of the human experience, part of our biological inheritance.

My mentor, Phil Porter had a theory that spirituality was a form of play, and I tend to agree with that.

To play is human. We play for much longer than most species. Play is an effective form of learning. The more a species relies on instinct to meet its biological needs, the less it plays. Human beings have very few inborn instincts; most of how we live is learned. We make sense of our world through exploration and generalization of our experience, play-based learning. The individual play experiences allow us to practice “real-life” and generate patterns of understanding that can help us interpret situations when we encounter them in more crucial environments – like practicing sword-fighting before being faced with a duel to the death.

Enjoyment has been shown to help learning, so the joy associated with play is part of our biological mechanism for learning. Play encourages variation, which allows for pattern recognition and categorization – two things which are very useful for making quick decisions later.

Spiritual experiences are a form of pattern recognition. Anomalous experiences, experiences that do not fit the patterns of understanding that we have reached about our world send our minds looking for alternate explanations, alternate views of the world that can encompass the new experience. The mystery of how this experience fits into the world is the fundamental concern that leads to the sense of an experience being beyond our concrete existence. When combined with our biological instinct to assume that things happen because an agent caused them to happen (it is safer to assume the bush is moving because a predator is lurking there than to be surprised when the predator attacks because you assumed it was just wind), humans find God.

The understanding of a benevolent God who watches and cares for us is a direct result of an anomalous experience, a playful moment of joy, and ascription of agency to the event. The spiritual interpretation comes after the experience. The experience in interpreted through play-based learning to arrive and the interpretation that a spiritual experience has just been had.

This is not meant in any way to suggest that spiritual experiences are not real or that they are not life-changing. They are. Just as play teaches us about the mundane elements of our world, play teaches us about the mysteries beyond our rational comprehension as well.

In a world where secular humanism is becoming the foundation of civilized society, the experiences that are labeled spiritual have an uneasy time being accepted into the worldview. To find a place for them, and to accept the gifts of joy, wholeness, and spontaneity that are often a part of such experiences, we must embrace play if we reject God.

Luckily, play is a fundamental human practice and all that is needed is to embrace its importance to us as a species.


Finished a Project and Crashing? That’s Normal

Rest is part of the creative process.

Rest is part of the creative process.

After a creative project ends, there is a moment of being emotionally lost, without a stable footing; the ground of life feels less real. The energy that was supporting the creation dissipates and takes some time to gravitate to a new project. Sometimes, this creative dissipation is short-lived. After a particularly long project comes to an end, it can take a long time to refuel.

But, the pause is normal. It is a natural part of the creative cycle.

Some people like to avoid the feeling of being lost by always having anther project to jump to. Others focus on one project at a time and get used to the incubation period between projects as part of the creative process. And then, there are people who fall in the middle, people like me.

I am in the middle of many projects at the moment: the acting classes I am teaching at Durham Improv are in full session and I spend time each week preparing the next lesson, I am in rehearsal for a staged reading of a new play written by a friend of mine, I have a new writing circle that is supporting me in the current revision of The Red Oak; and I am putting together some new online classes on overcoming writer’s block and public speaking.

In the midst of all of this, I made time to audition for my dream role yesterday. I have the misfortune of mostly falling in love with and wanting to play male characters. Every now and then, a director considers cross-gender casting. In this case, I was eligible to audition for the role of Prospero in The Tempest. I have a hard time picking my favourite Shakespeare play, but I have no difficulty saying that Prospero is the character I want most to play.

For this audition, I managed to do something that I have never done before. I manged to completely let go of my desire to get the part and simply relished being able to perform the role during the audition. By treating the audition as a performance and not as a job interview, I brought the fullest expression of my 3+ decades of training to the moment and was able to truly inhabit the character for the moments of my reading. And, if I never get to perform Prospero’s monologue about setting aside his magic again, I know that I have lived that moment.

The truth is still that I would love the part, but I prepared for the audition like it was my one opportunity to perform it, and my creative energy responded to that intention by driving forward until the performance/audition was over, providing a congratulatory high, and then becoming diffuse, searching for the next project and leaving me with a sense of loss.

I still have all the other projects on my plate, but before I could dive into any one of them, I have to allow a period of emptiness, to realign myself to life without this audition in the future.

How do I do it? I dance, naturally and spontaneously, letting my body embrace and embody my state of indecision. I nap. And I let it just be okay to feel a little unsteady as I move forward anyway. I know from experience that the energy will shift and I will feel confident in my creativity soon enough.

How do you manage the uncertainty that emerges after you finish a creative project?


Why Men Need Feminism

photo by Mark Normand

picture by Mark Normand


I have been spending time recently with too many men who have been damaged by the expectations placed on men to be “manly”. In some cases, these men are struggling to find new definitions of manliness that allow them to be emotionally alive, but in others, they are struggling to be stronger and tougher than feels natural to them to meet some ideal they have absorbed as a goal.

These men are not comfortable with what is going on and are yearning for a more authentic way of being in the world. The biggest sign of this is that they are opening up and talking about it – in a world that does not encourage men to talk, and especially not about feelings.

Some men don’t even realize that they have been damaged, but demonstrate the damage by acting inauthentically; covering up emotions they fear would make them appear weak. Unfortunately, instead of coming across as tough and manly, these guys just look like assholes. But, they don’t realize that this is what is happening, so they don’t know how to transform from creep to cool.

There is a push back towards gendered expectations in North America. The war on women being fought by the Republican party in the United States is trying to drive women back into the dark ages. And women are fighting back. I see a lot of justifiable anger from mothers of daughters who are being pushed to absorb limiting ideas of what a girl or woman can be. I see less anger about the damage that is being inflicted on their sons.

I have sons and I hate seeing them pushed into roles that do not suit them. Even my most typically boyish son is deeply emotional, but he is absorbing the “guys play with guns and balls and don’t express emotions” expectations of the society around him. My two deeply emotional, sensitive, and creative boys are struggling to find any place for themselves in this world. They do not want to become competitive and tough. They want to stay open to the wonders and beauty in the world.

The most recent research tells us men and women are psychologically more alike than different. A social construction of gender expectations that posits men and women as fundamentally different denies the experience of large numbers of men and women.

Every individual has a particular constellation of psychological traits, traits that are not determined by gender. Only by recognizing people as individuals and treating them as such can people be free to live psychologically healthy lives.

Gender equality and avoidance of gender stereotyping opens up options for men to be true to themselves and their own personalities and desires, just as the fight for gender equality has opened realms to women.

In my years of InterPlaying, I have been privileged to watch many men embracing their whole selves and it is always a powerful transformation to watch. By allowing themselves to be whole, these men I have worked and played with have invariably become stronger, more grounded, and more effective in their lives. And it all starts with stepping out of the straight-jacket of gender expectations and looking at the actual data of their own lived experience to discover who they are.

6 Tips for Creating Suspense from Andrew Pyper

Sparks of insight from a writer who visits the dark places

Sparks of insight from a writer who visits the dark places

Yesterday, I had the privilege of hearing Andrew Pyper, author of Canadian bestsellers The Killing Circle, Lost Girls, and The Demonologist, speak at the WCDR’s monthly breakfas. As he introduced his talk, he told us he had decided while watching a nail-biting hockey game the night before not to give one of his set speeches. As a writer of literary thrillers, he spends a lot of time thinking about suspense, and the game triggered him to put his thoughts about how to create suspense on paper.

His presentation had the freshness that comes from newly articulated thoughts and the depth of years of thinking on the subject. I have no doubt that he will refine the speech and future audiences will get a well-polished lesson in creating literary suspense, but it was a treat to be exposed to the more raw workings of Pyper’s mind as he develops this presentation. For those of you who didn’t have the privilege of being there, here is a recap of what I got out of his talk.

1. A Working Definition of Suspense

Suspense is the space between the asking and answering of a question.

When structuring a story, a writer must keep track of the questions that the reader is expecting will be answered. It is the desire to get the answers to these questions that keeps a reader turning the pages.

Although a single question may drive a novel from beginning to end, it is not enough. Secondary and tertiary questions at midpoints keep the tension high. Pacing the suspense through the story requires tracking the unanswered questions, creating a series of questions that are answered throughout the book.

For suspense, there must always be an open question.

2. Generating Fear in a Scene

What generated fears in a reader? It is not the exquisite description of the scary thing. Rather, a scary scene is driven by the experience of the character who is scared.

For example, in Henry Jame’s ghost story The Turn of the Screw, the ghosts are ciphers, hardly described, sketchily drawn. The power of the story is in the living governess who experiences the presence of the ghosts. Her fear becomes the reader’s fear.

A description of a creepy basement is far less frightening to a reader than sharing the experience of a character who hates basements but has to explore this one because he fears his missing daughter is down there, and it terrified of what he will find when he gets to the bottom. The character’s interpretation of the creepiness of the elements of the basement is key.

3. Setting for a Scary Scene

There is power in keeping it real. Make the scene identifiable to your reader to increase the immediacy of the sense of fear.

The devil is in the details. The little things can be frightening. In a realistic, contemporary world, the moving of a coffee cup or the spilling of a cup of coffee can be scary.

To develop the sense of fear as experienced by a character, one technique is to use the environment to reflect the character’s state of mind.

As an example, Pyper used a scene from one of his books in which a frightened character sees a pastoral mural, but rather than focusing on the peace of the scene, the character imagines a hunter lurking in the woods ready to destroy that peace.

4. Capture the Details of Life

Pyper described good writing as the movement between the general and the particular. A sole focus on the general fails to capture the reader’s attention, but too much of the particular becomes merely a list of facts.

There is a resonance in naming things. As an example, Pyper offered the distinction between a scene in which a character sees a half-eaten sandwich on the bathroom counter and a doll and an action figure in the shower and the same scene with the character seeing a half-eaten ham sandwich, a Cabbage Patch doll and a Green Lantern action figure. Adding the specificity to the items engages the reader at a deeper level.

Pyper shared two techniques he uses for finding the particulars that he can use in his writing.

1.  Like most writers, Pyper carries a notebook in which he records details he observes. The notebook is a tool for remembering the particular, especially moments of dialogue.
2.  A mental exercise he engages in is to look around an everyday place and think about where in that environment something terrible could happen.

 5. Making a Friendship Bracelet or the Don DeLillo effect

One of the things Pyper discovered when examining Don DeLillo’s work was that DeLillo often combines 3 elements in a paragraph and weaves a fugue of sentences using these elements.

For example, the three elements could be a character’s actions, a memory, and a current thought. By weaving these elements together in a single paragraph, a writer can extend a moment in a believable way. Rather than slowing down physical actions, this approach enriches the action that is happening and delays the readers progression to the next moment – a technique that delays the answering of open questions, thereby contributing to suspense.

Pyper used the friendship bracelet he was wearing, made by his daughter, as an analogy. The threads of the bracelet are the elements that are being woven together to create the whole.

As an advanced technique for increasing the suspense, one of the threads can remind readers of questions that have been asked but not yet answered.

6. Use How You, the Writer, Feel as a Test

A writer has to care about each scene. To create scary scenes, the author must feel that everything is at stake for the character in the scene. Something about the scene must be unsettling to the author.

Especially in writing the first draft, Pyper points out that a writer must open Pandora’s box, letting out all the things that can go somewhere frightening, grounded in the awareness that this is what makes my character scared. Pyper knows he has done well when he leaves a writing session thinking, “maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”

Revision is a different beast, but the first draft is the place to go for the ridiculous and open all the doors to places that scare the character. Refine and cut later if the work demands it, but start by getting it all out there.

And there you have it, 6 thoughts on creating suspense from Andrew Pyper. Can you use them to make your story-telling more suspenseful? I know I can.

Defining Success or Finding Myself on Wikipedia


I want evidence that my work has touched another life.

I used to say I would know I had succeeded when I found my work quoted in places I had no direct connection to, but that no longer seems like the ideal measurement of success.

Simpler things matter more now.

  • When my son tears through the first 3/4 of my novel in a morning and tells me, “I love it,” I have succeeded.

  • When an acting student asks when I am teaching again because he wants to learn more from me, I have succeeded.

  • When I help a friend find a new and easier approach to challenging work, I have succeeded.

But, there is still something very cool about having my work out in public spaces that reach strangers.

Which brings me to Wikipedia. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I could be found on Wikipedia, I would have said absolutely not. I would have been wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me, there is no entry with my name, but my maiden name is in the bibliographic notes on two entries.

I discovered this while web-surfing. My friend, horror writer Tobin Elliott, mentioned that Omni back issues are available online–and they are, at the Internet Archive.

As I scanned the Omni back issues, I reflected on my first interactions with the Internet Archive. I met Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, while I was working as the Government Affairs Coordinator for the Interactive Multimedia Association. One of my jobs was to edit the proceedings of a conference on using technology to manage intellectual property in the digital age. Kahle had presented a paper at the conference, so I worked with him as part of that project.

In March of 1997, the volume I edited was listed as “Further Reading” in connection with an article in Scientific American written by Mark Stefik, another of the presenters at that conference.

Thinking about the article, I wondered if it was available online, so I went surfing. After discovering that the same volume of proceedings was cited in the Wikipedia article about yet another of the presenters, Douglas Armati, I typed my name into the search box on Wikipedia, just for kicks.

To my surprise, there I was, in a citation to an article I wrote on the 16th century Anabaptist leader John of Leiden as part of a history class at Starr King School for the Ministry.

It is an obscure paper on an obscure topic. I wrote the paper because I was fascinated by the idea that polygamy was mandated in a city-state for a brief period during the Protestant Reformation. I hardly gave it any thought when my professor asked for permission to publish it online. And, there it is, sitting on the Internet having a little life of its own.

Shortly after it was published, a friend of mine found it, read it, and wrote a play inspired by it. But he found it because he knew me and Googled me. The citation on Wikipedia had nothing at all to do with me.

And that makes me happy.

But, is it success? It certainly fits the “quotation of my work without my direct contribution” criteria, so maybe it is.

Whatever it is, it made my day when I discovered it.

And now, like with every goal that gets achieved, I have new and different tasks I want to check off my “only in my mind and always changing” bucket list.

Empowering Women, Goddess-Talk, and Fluffy Bunnies

Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens



There is a marketing movement afoot to sell things to women by telling them a product or service will help them “Embrace Your Inner Goddess,” “Be the Goddess You Already Are,” or other such nonsense. The implication is that this will be good for women, but I think it is misguided.

I have no idea what a Goddess would be or look like, but I’m pretty sure I would hate to be one. Looking at religion and mythology, there are two different kinds of Gods and Goddesses.

The omnipresent divinity, whether male, female, or somehow both, is either a Big Brother, eye-in-the-sky observer or an energy that is present within each element of reality. Either way, I can’t reconcile the idea of being that kind of godhead with the reality that I live in a human body with human limitations.

So, I turn to the other sorts of Gods and Goddesses, the ones who function as models of psychological archetypes. And I wouldn’t want to be any of them either. Stuck in one, or maybe two, modes of functioning, each God or Goddess is incomplete, the image of merely one facet of human personality. True humans are complex muddles of desires, limitations, vices, and virtues. A rich understanding of self requires acknowledging the fullness of our complexity, embracing the oddities, the quirks, the inconsistencies within us.

No archetypical Goddess has the full richness of humanity and no omnipresent Goddess faces the limitations of a single body and a single set of experiences that form each unique human being.

Empowering Women

The argument for using Goddess talk to empower women claims that in order to value women, we must reclaim the value of the feminine that has been suppressed under patriarchy; we must celebrate the feminine and Goddess imagery is the ultimate celebration of femininity.

The trouble is, there is no such thing as femininity. Psychologically, men and women are more similar than different. Physically, there are distinct differences between men and women, but the association of certain certain psychological traits with men and others with women does a disservice to everyone.

Love, compassion, nurturing, and capacity for sacrifice are not feminine traits. They are human traits. Emotional depths and intuitive knowing are not feminine traits. They are human traits. They are undervalued components of humanity and have been projected onto undervalued humans, but they are universal. Like all human characteristics, different people embody them in different proportions, and their expression can be encouraged or discouraged by society.

The people I want to spend my time with are driven, passionate, strong, interdependent, and compassionate. Whether they are men or women is irrelevant. But, because I include both driven and compassionate in my list of desirable traits, I tend to hang out with people who float around in the gap between gender stereotypes – people who express the mix of human richness.

The best way to empower women is to empower people, whole people: strong, driven independent women: soft, compassionate, nurturing men; gentle women; tough guys; everybody.

Generally, when women are encouraged to embrace their inner goddess, they are being encouraged to value the part of their personality that is categorized as feminine instead of other parts of their personalities.

Which brings me to fluffy bunnies.

Fluffy Bunnies

“I didn’t say I’d never slay another vampire. It’s not like I have all these fluffy bunny feelings for them, I’m just not going to get way extra-curricular with it.” — Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The term fluffy bunny is used as a term for someone focused on love and light, often in the context of Wicca, without respect for the darkness that is also part of the natural order. Fluffy bunnies are naive, with unrealistic views of the good within the world. In the context of Wicca, this often shows up as an emphasis on soft, nurturing, mother goddess.

Have you ever seen an angry mother rise up to defend or protect her child or a tough mother pushing her child to embrace a risk or challenge in order to grow into a strong adult? Mothers can be tough, vengeful, angry, and stubborn – and that can be a good thing. And that’s just mothers. Women undertake many roles in life and there is room for softness and toughness in all of them.

I find most people who encourage women to see themselves as goddesses believe that valuing compassion and connection will make the world a better place and that this can be done by embracing goddess imagery.

I don’t disagree on the value of compassion and connection, but I don’t see goddess imagery as the best way to get there.

For one thing, either a goddess is a limited slice of nature or she is all of nature: good, bad and indifferent. Neither is a useful analogy to the limited complexity of humanity.

I would rather we get away from the whole idea and start embracing the wondrous complexity of the human.

Do You Need Almost-Insane Deadlines?

I need almost-but-not-quite-insane deadlines. Here’s why.


Deadlines Keep Me Producing

I wish I didn’t need deadlines, but I do. The truth is I get easily distracted. Without a deadline to force me to focus, I have a hard time moving forward on projects.

I need a real deadline, a deadline that will affect another human being if I miss it. Setting a time I want to have something done by is not enough. I need something external to keep me accountable.

I have always been like this.

It isn’t just that I love the adrenaline rush that comes from being under deadline pressure. It is part of my personality.

I am a knowledge junkie. When I become aware of new information, I want to drop everything I am doing and explore it. It takes an external trigger to force me to shift into the mode of doing something with the information that I have.

Deadlines make me sit down and get something out there.

The Power of Almost Insane Deadlines

I have big ambitions and big ambitions need big outputs to be realized. So, I need big projects. I have discovered that my projects will take as much time as I give them. Therefore, to push me to be optimally productive, my deadlines need to be far enough out for me to actually meet them, but no more.

I have just recently completed a huge revision of The Red Oak. I had been working on solving the same problems in this book for an embarrassingly long time. What it took for me to complete it was an almost-insane deadline. I promised my husband and son that I would let them read the draft six weeks later, knowing I would not be happy giving them a manuscript without solving several of the problems that had been haunting me. And I did it. Under the pressure of the deadline, my subconscious got to work and found solutions.

At the same time that I have been working on this revision, I have been watching my husband rise to the challenge of an almost-insane deadline of his own. My husband is redoing all four kids’ bedrooms. I am helping in small ways, but the bulk of the work is his. When he started the project, he set himself a deadline of his parents’ next visit. He was going to redo 4 rooms in five months, including learning how to lay flooring, while working full-time and participating fully in family life. It was a crazy deadline when he set it, but one that had meaning for him. We are almost at the deadline, and the rooms are almost done. He will be able to show off his handiwork when his folks arrive.

Without the deadline, he would taken more time to watch The Daily Show and other fun but unproductive activities. He would have been more rested, perhaps, but he would have been less satisfied with his life.

Insane Deadlines are Bad

The tricky thing about setting almost-insane deadlines is learning the difference between “almost insane” and “actually insane” deadlines. With truly impossible goals, failure is inevitable. Once I know failure is inevitable, the power of the deadline is gone. I’m not going to make it, so why bother trying.

An effective deadline needs to look barely doable all the way to the end.

What kind of deadlines work for you.


Writing at the Speed of the Unconscious

What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.
~ Ray Bradbury

The subconscious harbours all sorts of useful material for writers. Our brains store all of the facts we have absorbed from living in the world even if we are not sure how to access them. The images and passions that fill our dreams are the stuff that makes our writing rich, if only we can connect with them.

Thinking Space

Getting the subconscious to work on a problem in the background often benefits from slow, calm, repetitive activities: taking a shower, walking, sleeping, driving. My mind is always happy daydreaming about my current writing project while my body is washing the dishes or folding laundry.

Tapping the subconscious while at the keyboard is more challenging. Once I start seeing words physically appearing on the screen, my internal editor and heavy-handed conscious mind want to get in on the action. So I have to trick them into getting out of the way.

There is an instruction in InterPlay that made me aware of how I do this. When InterPlayers start a hand-to-hand contact dance, we bring a hand to touch our partner’s hand. Then, we move our hands to change how they are touching. After a few such moves, the leader asks the participants to change positions faster than the speed of thought. And we do.

Our subconscious mind is fast, faster than our conscious mind. By forcing our bodies to move fast, we can force the conscious mind to yield to the unconscious mind. In InterPlay, we use moving faster than the conscious mind to remind ourselves that our experience is bigger than our conscious mind. We become aware of the limits of consciousness and the power of the subconscious workings of our bodyspirits.

I realized recently that this is why I find NaNoWriMo a useful challenge, though I set myself additional challenges beyond the formal challenge. NaNoWriMo pushes me to write faster than I usually do.

By writing fast, I bypass my internal critic and go straight for the good stuff. The images that come out of my subconscious are usually more interesting, more emotionally charged, more multilayered in meaning that what comes out of my conscious mind. For my fiction, I need those qualities.

When I write blog posts, I write slowly.

I ponder the content of each blog post in the spare minutes of my day, mulling over ideas and starting to craft sentences during routine parts of my day – in the shower, washing dishes, picking up the kids toys, etc. By the time I sit at the keyboard to compose, I know what I want to say and have a general outline in my head. The actual writing is careful and controlled as I focus on articulating the ideas clearly.

Writing fiction is entirely different.

My first drafts are fast. They have to be.

By writing fast, I tap into my subconscious and discover the metaphors, characters, and details that enrich my fiction. My first drafts are messy, like my subconscious, but there are rich veins for me to mine during editing.

That is what works for me. Check out the following links if you want to see other approaches for tapping into the subconscious.

Holly Lisle uses a form of timed writing exercise inspired by Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

Jody Helfand shared 7 of her techniques on the Poetica Magazine blog.

Patrick Ross directs his subconscious while he sleeps.

Angela Booth recommends improv exercises.

Are there other techniques that work for you?