Do you remember the first time a story really scared the hell out of you? I mean the, scarred for life, kind of scared. For me, this happened at the tender age of eleven. The story was an episode of The Twilight Zone.

It was late one night during summer break. I was enjoying the freedom of staying up well past my bedtime. There was little to do other than watch old reruns on TV, so that’s what I did.

It was around midnight when Rod Serling stepped into frame wearing his thin tie and neatly tailored suit, a smoldering cigarette in hand. The episode he introduced that night was called To Serve Man.

If you’ve never seen this one I encourage you to check it out. I won’t ruin it for you, but it involves ten-foot tall, mute, aliens who come to Earth promising Utopia, but well, there’s a catch.

That damn show scared me on such a deep psychological level that I’m certain it did real and permanent damage to my psyche.

It was really good.  

The episode was based on a short story, of the same name, written in 1950 by Damon Knight. Knight was a prolific science fiction writer and editor, and beyond his work, in fiction, he wrote a lot about the craft of storytelling. An idea from one of his books, Creating Short Fiction, is what I’d like to talk about today.

Conversations with Fred.

Who’s Fred? I’ll let Knight explain:

“Your mind comes in two parts, the conscious part and the other one… ‘The silent mind’… or the ‘tongue-tied mind,’ but I prefer to call it ‘Fred.’”

Knight explains- the conscious mind is linear and logical thinking, but “Fred” works in the realm of ideas, hunches, and intuitions. Further, Knight claims the two minds are like prisoners in adjoining cells that never learn to talk to one another, much to the detriment of the aspiring writer. Because, if we ever want to perfect our craft we must get in contact with our very own “Fred.” Our “silent mind.”

The Silent Mind is in charge of nearly half of the creative process- imagery, symbolism, and story ideas all originate there, and we should not abuse this resource. If you want the Silent Mind to work with you you have to give it material.

You must read, research subjects that stir passion, and deposit facts and anecdotes off with your Silent Mind. Let information simmer there. You never know what the Silent Mind may transform all those disparate parts into.

If you think to yourself, “I wish I had a good idea for a story,” the Silent Mind will often send you something. However, this partition is only as practiced a writer as you are so you’ll have to train it.

Reject bad ideas, and tell it to try again. But don’t ignore the Silent Mind. If you do, it may sever communication with you all together.

Now, you’re probably saying: “This sounds like a load of New Age bull.” But Knight isn’t the only writer to discuss his relationship with an “other” mind. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, calls this entity “the muse,”

“you, the artist, you’re not the… puppet of the muse, but you’re not its master, either. It’s a relationship, it’s a conversation, and all it [the muse] wants is to be treated with respect and dignity — and it will return ten thousand times over.”

David Lynch, an artist I’ve written about before, describes it another way-

“In the other room the puzzle is already complete, but they keep flicking in pieces one at a time.”

Maybe you don’t believe a couple of exceedingly successful writers, though. Well, let me hit you with some science then-

Bam! Proof there’s another person living in your head! Whatcha know about that? Or maybe not. I don’t know, but something is going on in there.

Let’s postulate, for a moment, that this Silent Mind is a very real part of you. As far as we know the Silent Mind is here to help. So respect it, feed it with information, listen to its ideas. Whatever it is, it perceives the world in ways that we don’t or can’t, and that perspective is incredibly valuable to the writer.

So, the next time you’re staring at the blank page bereft of inspiration, blood running from your eyeballs, you might try asking yourself:

“Hey Fred, you in there?”