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Beginning Your Essay: Seed the Subconscious

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

“You have to write the crazy. The worst. The most terrible thing you don’t want anybody to ever read this mess, and in that mess you sometimes find the diamond.”

––Traci Currie, Poet, Activist, Scholar

If you ever play games, dance, or make music you are familiar with principles of improvisation––go with the flow, stay open, start with what comes easy. These very same improv principles help writers lessen anxiety and express themselves in ways that delight and surprise.

At the beginning it may help to envision your Future Black Female essay unfolding in four overlapping phases: a period of getting started where you generate and discover ideas; a time of exploring them by growing, expanding, and experimenting; a time to shape and consider your essay’s organization, perhaps, compressing and cutting elements to maximize connection with its readers; and a final phase of further refinement, polishing, editing, and proofreading.

This blog (and the three that follow) provide strategies and approaches to guide you through each phase. The goal is to ease writing anxiety, promote greater fearlessness, and spark your expressive power.


Perhaps, you have a trusted friend. Do you know a kind and gentle someone who is on your side? Sometimes writing with companions makes it easier for each person to find her flow. If it pleases you, gather a circle of like-minded friends. Support each other as you begin to answer the essay’s key questions for yourself: Who are you in the present? Where do you live? What do you think about the growing focus on empowering women? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now as a black woman? What are your hopes? What are your dreams? What do you desire to see in the world?

Sometimes writers become anxious when facing a blank page. If you do too know you’re not alone. Such anxiety may even be a natural part of the process, but it’s possible to harness that nervous energy and put it into our writing where it engages the subconscious from which surprising, delightful, and challenging ideas emerge.

The subconscious is that part of the mind that doesn’t think or plan. Instead it automatically generates, invents, and connects ideas in unique ways. It doesn’t want to be censored, and it doesn’t want to be told what to do. The subconscious needs to be coaxed into playing with us.

It shows up when we cultivate a gentle inner-dialogue, greeting our ideas with warmth and appreciation as they start appearing on the page. After all, in the early stages of writing, we can’t know where our ideas will take us next. So why not welcome every one?

Here are other guidelines that promote a more relaxed writing state.

·Stay positive!

·Start with what comes quickly. Don’t wait for what you think is best.

·Don’t try and be the boss.

·We don’t always have to make logical sense.

·Celebrate and welcome mistakes; mistakes can be gifts.

·Try different things.

·Whatever is happening, be committed to that.

·As much as possible maintain a relaxed state. Through a relaxed perspective we can see everything. When we get nervous, our vision narrows.

·Don’t invent; listen for what naturally comes next.

·Negativity is usually a sign of fear, and bringing awareness to the breath helps relieve fear.


If you haven’t already done so, a good next step would be to review the Essay Competition guidelines, which can be found here:

As you read, ask yourself, which of the questions excite you? Which ones feel mysterious? Dangerous? Beautiful? Challenging? Easy? Inspiring?

Keep this in the back of your mind as you write guiding words or questions at the top of a fresh, clean piece of paper. For example, you might write, “What Future Black Female Means to Me.” Or, perhaps, you already have another phrase to ignite your writing or you want to spark it with a question. Do what works for you!


First, set up the writing circumstances you most enjoy. Some writers like quiet. Others like noise. Are you a type of writer that seeks solitude and silence or do you like to write surrounded by people, listening to music? Go to the space and gather the materials that suit you best––pen and paper, cell phone, or computer screen.

Before starting, take a breath, close your eyes, and feel it move about your body. You are a beautiful black girl who has powerful and important ideas to express, ideas our world needs to hear, and you are connected to this world in powerful and important ways. Let your voice sing!

Next, make a promise to yourself, “I’m going to focus on my writing without stopping for 15 minutes, no matter what!” If you like, make that same promise to a trusted friend. That means you’ll keep your pen and/or fingers moving as quickly as you can without judging or censoring your ideas, simply writing, writing, writing until your time is up.

Here are three methods for getting ideas to flow. Choose one that works best for you, or move between each as it pleases you best.

Method One: Freewriting

This strategy is helpful to all kinds of writers because it’s easy to do as long as you commit to keep writing no matter what! No stopping! No erasing! No crossing things out. You need only keep moving forward without worrying about making sense, spelling things correctly, or being grammatically correct.

You write and write and write, knowing this blog is not the boss of your writing, and you are also not the boss of your writing. Your fingers are the boss of your writing, and they are free to take it in any direction they want it to go. You simply witness ideas flow onto the page, without questioning or trying to make them go in a particular direction.

Yes, sometimes writers get stuck, and that’s OK. If you do too, simply write your name over and over again, or this sucks, or write about what you’re hearing, seeing, tasting, or feeling in this very moment until a new thought emerges. There’s no way to freewrite wrong as long as you commit to movement.

It really helps to have a timer. A timer adds a little pressure, which many writers find helpful. While you’re worried about how much time is left, your subconscious is free to show up with all its weird and surprising thoughts. Let it do its work without judgment or censorship.

Write fast! And remember, first thoughts, best thoughts!

Method Two: Listing

Take a look at the Future Black Female Essay prompt one more time and simply list, as quickly as possible, as many ideas as you can think of in response, starting at the top of your page and working your way down to the bottom. Don’t worry about their order, or even if they make sense. Simply look and list––one after the other––anything that comes to mind. You may even find you repeat yourself. That’s OK too. Welcome any words that flow from your fingertips and onto the page.

Method Three: Brainstorming/Clustering

Turn your paper to the side so it’s longer at its width than it is tall.

Think of a spider web with one idea at the center, Future Black Female, for example, and circle this main idea. Now what ideas are related to that? Draw lines out from the center to each new thought. Perhaps, your own name belongs on the page? What about your sister’s, auntie’s, or mom’s? What jobs belong on this page? What resources and dreams? Keep drawing circles around your words and draw lines between the ones that seem connected in some way, remembering it doesn’t have to make logical sense. In this process, your intuition counts for a lot.

What questions do each of these ideas raise for you? Write them down too. Do new ideas emerge each time you raise questions? Keep circling ideas and drawing lines, remembering not to censor or judge the beautiful mess you are making on your page.

At this point, it will probably look more like a picture than an essay. Notice how fun that can be.

Keep going! In this way, you’re developing notes and ideas you can take into the next phase.


Once you’ve completed a first 15 minute cycle, be sure to take another breath, celebrating that you’ve completed the most difficult part of this essay––getting started!

Now, you have another set of choices; you can go back in and commit to another 15 minutes of idea generation or you can move ahead to the next stage, remembering that each phase in the writing process overlaps with the next recursively until the very end.

In fact, many writers believe a piece of writing is never really finished. It’s simply due. Every piece holds infinite possibilities until the end of time. Bringing an attitude of exploration, experimentation, and excitement to your essay may help you enjoy creating it more and doubt it less, so keep going!

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