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Aimee Bender: Allowing the Unconscious to Rule

Woody Allen on writing: “Even when you’re not thinking about it, your unconscious is cooking. Even when I’m playing my clarinet or seeing a movie or something, even though I’m not consciously thinking of it, the unconscious is percolating.”

Aimee Bender is the author of four books including The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998), and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (2010) which recently won the SCIBA award for best fiction.

Her fiction has been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches creative writing at USC. [From bio on her site, also source of photo,]

In an interview, she commented about the central value of the subconscious or unconscious for creative work: “I realized that my parents, in a way, had a similar job: my dad, through psychiatry, is dealing with the unconscious and forging his way through other people’s unawareness and bringing them into the air to look at, and my mom is delving into her own unconscious to make up dances.

“She’s a dance teacher and choreographer. And I’m sort of the combo platter, in that psychiatry is so essentially verbal and well, duh, of course so is writing, and also I am like her in that it’s all about creating from this inexplicable mysterious place.”

She recalls as a kid, “being terrified of thunder and talking to my dad about it, and at some point having the fear released when I admitted I was angry at someone, and this was like magic – I’d thought I was really truly scared of thunder.

“When my dad suggested I might be a little mad I thought, at first, he was insane. A friend of mine recently suggested that learning this so young, that metaphors can work this way, was like learning piano young, it gave me some kind of easy access, and it has affected my fiction since then.”

She thinks that “on some level that is also what motivates my fiction for me. It seems the best work I do is when I am really allowing the unconscious to rule the page and then later I can go back and hack around and make sense of things but the queen of the story is that part of my brain and the stories wouldn’t work, wouldn’t move me, wouldn’t have any power, unless they had a strong connection to my unconscious.

She adds, “That’s why the whole concept of planning fiction is so ridiculous. I just think the more you loosen the reins, the more resonant the work can be.”

She tries to write without too much intellectual control, using “the good old ‘follow your nose’ approach, which for me means to write each day just what I feel like and not feel obligated or forced to try to make connections or make a point or anything.”

From Pif Magazine Interview by Ryan Boudinot.

Accessing your unconscious

In my earlier post Cognitive Filtering, Meditation, Creativity, I quoted Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. about enhancing creative productivity: “By cultivating mindfulness, you allow yourself to hear even the subtlest messages from the unconscious.”

Also see my list of Meditation and mindfulness articles.

My related Inner Writer post: Writing from Your Subconscious.
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Aimee Bender: Allowing the Unconscious to Rule

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2011). Aimee Bender: Allowing the Unconscious to Rule. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2018, from


Last updated: 28 Apr 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Apr 2011
Published on All rights reserved.