Did I Write That?

Let’s talk about the subconscious mind and its effects on writing fiction.

I’ve studied and practiced the art of fiction writing for a short time: four years, two months, and four days (4 to 8 hours per day, most days.)

That’s a lot of hours.

About two years ago I phoned my ‘favourite reader’, and the conversation went something like this:

“I’m not going to finish that story,” I said. “In fact, I’m going to stop writing altogether.”

“What?” She was horrified. “What about all the time you’ve already invested in this?”

I understood what she was saying, but it was time to face the truth. I was a terrible writer. My writing read like a ‘shopping list’.

Complete failure.

I had to admit, for the first time in my life, that I’d failed. I felt like I was flogging a dead horse. One in twenty of my short stories was, at best, mediocre, and that’s simply not good enough.

Then she said, “So, what are you going to do?”

“Dunno,” I said. “Go fishing. Take up knitting. Maybe shoot myself in the head . . . ”

Over four thousand hours of life wasted. I wasn’t in a good place.

I looked at my laptop. One line of text stared back at me: the start of a short story about a red wheelchair.

At least have the balls to finish the story, I thought. Why not? Nobody will ever read it anyway.

So, I finished the story, closed my laptop, and went to bed. It was only 650 words. Here it is:

The Lucky Ones

The twisted, red wheelchair lay on its side—it was grey a moment ago—its uppermost bent wheel rotated slowly. An alloy prosthetic limb lay nearby. Its owner gone, vanished, or so it seemed.

Angry black smoke billowed from the fires towards the setting sun and painted everyone and everything in the carpark of the shopping centre an eerie hue of dreary amber: an unnatural phenomenon rarely seen by most.

Mathew Slate coughed and rolled over on his side.


A loud ringing-silence obliterated all of his senses, except vision.

A girl’s blackened shoe lay close to his face, feminine, grotesque in its singularity, alone and charred.

Where’s the other one? he thought. They come in pairs.

He sat up, turned, and stared at it, trying to make sense of it all. Her cauterised foot was still inside.

Where’s the rest of her?

Was this a surreal dream?


A vivid nightmare.

It had to be a terrifying nightmare. A bad dream you’re relieved to wake up from: pleased to forget.

Where was he? Why was he here?

The list. The food-shopping list. It was in his hand just moments ago.

His eyes swivelled to his own smoking clothes. He patted at his attire with numb hands—a natural reaction—that’s what you do when you’re lucky: put-out the smouldering bits.

Tearing his eyes from the horror was impossible. They were everywhere he looked.


Screaming, burning, writhing people: the lucky ones. Others were dazed, sitting, staring, quiet. And some lay in bits and pieces, simply body parts, barely recognisable amongst the debris field of broken glass, twisted metal, concrete rubble, and crimson.

The unlucky ones.

One old man sat alone amidst the chaos, unscathed, or so it seemed, and he laughed: unbelievable. Mathew couldn’t hear him but saw him, watched him laugh and bleed; everybody bleeds in their own unique way, and bleed they did, even the uninjured.

The smell—burning plastic, pulverised pavement dust, and a sweet odour he didn’t want to recognise.

Mathew took a deep breath; sensations returning. His ribs ached on the left side; he felt sharp pain in his left elbow; blood covered his left hand and trickled warm from both ears.


He rose and limped to the nearest stricken woman. She looked depleted; one side of her face stark-white, the other sooty—with shiny tear-tracks cutting their way through the grime. She was sitting and staring at her legs, mangled from the knees down. He removed his belt, wrapping it around her right thigh: a makeshift tourniquet. His hands shook as his eyes searched for a remedy for her other limb.

What to do?

People yelled at him—they were soundless—mouthing words with anxious faces. They kept yelling; he read their lips.

“You’re shit,” they mouthed, pointing to their torsos. “You’re shit!”

My shirt, he realised and struggled out of it, rolling it, tying it tight around her other thigh, knotting the sleeves.

She was saying something over and over; her lips moved but he couldn’t hear her verbiage. Still, his ears rang. He shook his head hoping to fix them, force them to hear her words. It didn’t work, so he focused on her lips.

“My daugh-ter,” her lips mouthed. “My daughter.”

Mathew glanced over his shoulder at the child’s shoe. He wanted to comfort the woman and tell her everything would be okay.

He said nothing.

Dusk crept in as the first responders arrived, their red and blue lights pulsed a hopeful reassurance, reflecting off the rubble, the walls of the building still standing, and the broken cars.

He’d seen it happen on television, distant and impersonal, in other parts of the world.

It won’t happen to me.

It can’t happen here.

The truth was no one was safe, and none were immune to this new phenomenon.

A brave new world, he thought. The new normal.


The next morning, I read it back over a cup of coffee. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but it was my best shopping list so far. I put it up for review to see what others thought of it, and it did well. Really well. Averaged four-and-a-half stars from all the reviewers. My favourite reader loved it.

Did I write that? I thought. I really don’t remember writing: ‘ . . . that’s what you do when you’re lucky: put-out the smouldering bits.’ Or: ‘ . . . everybody bleeds in their own unique way, and bleed they did, even the uninjured.’

Where was this stuff coming from? I’d heard other writers talk about their so called ‘Muse’. Was this my muse writing? I don’t believe in Muses, but I know for a fact that I typed that story with my own fingers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “ . . . as immediately I stopped disciplining the muse, she trotted obediently around and became an erratic mistress if not a steady wife.”

Sounds like he’d figured out how to train his subconscious mind to help his writing.

This article has become a little long winded, but I have figured out how to do this. I can do a follow up on how to actually do it, step by step, if there’s any interest. In the meanwhile, let me know if you’ve had any ‘Did I write that?’ moments.

2 responses to “Did I Write That?”

  1. I never worry about the quality of my writing. From past experience, I know that it is good enough. No one ever reaches perfection. So I don’t try. If I’ve given it my best and it’s good enough — I’m good with it.

    But on the subconscious aspect. I have to say, I’m not a writer. I’m an amanuensis. I write down what I hear and what I see my characters doing. And they aren’t actually characters — they’re real people. They live someplace other than here, and they’ve chosen me to record their lives. And I’m honored they have. I see writing as a duty to them. Writing makes them alive in this dimension so that they can tell us their stories; tell us the truth about living as they see it. And sometimes they have valuable lessons for us.

    So “Did I write that?” Yes, I did. But then again, I didn’t. It was given to me. And I’m grateful it was.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s an interesting take on writing. I’m always amazed to confirm, yet again, how unique every writer really is. And that’s a great thing, isn’t it?

    You’ve taught me a new word today–amanuensis–although, I’m not sure that I’d ever use it.


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