Fiction Writing and the Unconscious: A Memoir

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Carol Smith


In this paper, the expert knowledge of cognitive psychologists, writers, neuroscientists, writing teachers, social psychologists, Weight Watchers, marketing professors, historians, and a tennis pro, along with my experience as a published fiction writer, have been combined and synthesized into a collection of nuggets that give scientifically based ways to improve one's writing and one's writing process. Particular attention has been paid to the way that the unconscious affects writing and its effects on readers. Cognitive psychologists Dijksterhuis and Nordgren's theory of unconscious thought (UTT) recommends using unconscious thought for complex decisions and conscious thought for simple decisions (Dijksterhuis & Nordgren, 2006). Neuroscientist Arne Dietrich's hypothesis of transient hypofrontality suggests that what are seen as higher level of consciousness, such as meditation and runner's high, may actually be reduced level of consciousness, and that Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow may occur when the unconscious's automatic processes are in control (Dietrich, 2007). Cognitive psychologist Kihlstrom's cognitive unconscious suggests that the unconscious plays a role in our thinking, learning, perception, and memory (Kihlstrom, 1987). Cognitive psychologist Wilson (2002) suggests that your concept of who you are is based on your observations of your behavior, and that if you change your behavior, you can change who you think you are. Boice (1994), a writer and psychologist, suggests that the methods that work best for writing are the usually ones that are counterintuitive, such as stopping writing in the middle of a sentence can make it easier to start writing the next day. Writer Goldberg and psychologists Brewin and Lennard suggest that the mode of writing - handwriting or typing - can affect the emotional content of your writing (Goldberg, 1986; Brewin and Lennard, 1999). This knowledge and more has been synthesized into nuggets. Zafris, Painter, other writers and writing teachers, suggest that a literary short story contains more than one story: an outer story that is plot driven and an inner story that is the emotional core of the story. I hypothesize that the outer story is written for the conscious mind and the inner story is read by the unconscious, and that near the end of the story, the inner and outer stories combine to produce an ending the feels surprising to the conscious mind and inevitable to the unconscious.


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