Julian Gough’s Short Story Workshop‏ – part one

I recently took part in a very enjoyable short story workshop led by the utterly inspiring, and incredibly talented, Julian Gough. It was run over a weekend, starting at 9am!? (Who the hell thought a 9am start on a Saturday and Sunday was a great idea?) It wasn’t Julian’s fault, nor the organisers, it was the only time available for this intriguing venue (WUK Vienna). Looking back over those two days it was well worth it, although I need another weekend off to recover from this weekend.

After introducing himself, Julian started with some fascinating insights into the mind of the writer. He talked about Freud and the effect of Mesmer two centuries ago. But what he was about to say next caused a Eureka moment in my fledgeling writer’s mind.

He began to explain the differences between the conscious part of your mind and the subconscious part. He said the conscious part does most of the day-to-day stuff, but when you write, you need the subconscious part to take over. He mentioned that you have to unlock a number of ‘fire-doors’ that separate the two parts of the mind, so that the subconscious can take over for a while and do the writing for you. Also, he said that early psychologists thought of this relationship between the two parts as though a master and slave arrangement.

This struck a chord with me. I started to visualize these two imaginary figures in my mind as he continued talking. Then he came out with those dreaded words – writing exercises. Urghhh, I’m not a fan of writing groups that get together and go, “…let’s write something? See what you can come up in fifteen minutes?”

But Julian had a great way to help us write: constraints. Trying to write something, with no constraints set, is tough – try it yourself. Instead, Julian gave us a constraint to work with: write for only ten or fifteen minutes about the entire life of something or someone.

Now… almost other the other writers in the group wrote a good page or two on a character from one of their stories. MY subconscious thought ‘bugger that’ and had this conversation with my conscious self as I stared at the wall.


Mr Conscious kicks in the last fire-door that leads to the room containing the mischievous trickster, Subconscious, and shouts into the darkness below. “Oi, you! Write something, you’ve got fifteen minutes.”

The sudden blinding light pouring through the door makes Subconscious squint. “Sod off! I hate writing exercises.”

Mr Conscious grabs a book from one of the many shelves that line the wall and throws it at Subconscious. “Don’t you start acting like a prima donna now! I don’t want to be embarrassed when I go back up there and tell them we haven’t come up with something.”

Subconscious rubs his head where the book hit him. “Look, I’m an artist. I can’t just crap out something from thin air, I need to be INSPIRED.”

“Well, how about this, we need to write a quick ditty about the life of something,” said Mr Conscious, fixing his tie and straightening the pens in the chest pocket of his shirt.

DING! LIGHT-BULB! A big grin breaks out on Subconscious’ face.

Being telepathic, Mr Conscious yells, “HELL NO! We’re not writing about THAT! Write something routine for pity’s sake.”

Subconscious leaps to his feet and performs cart-wheels around the room. “Tough shit, I do the writing, you do the steering. The only writing you’re capable of is the filling out of application forms.”

Mr.Conscious squats down and holds his head in his hands. “Please! For once in our lives could you just write something normal like everyone else? You’re so embarrassing.”

“Nope! Out of my way dummkopf, I have art to create,” replied Subconscious, as he bounds up the stairs and out of the door that leads up to the ‘control room’.

In part two I’ll treat you to what my little trickster of a subconscious came up with.




  1. I’m a little jealous. I wish I had the opportunity to do all of this while I was in Vienna. I suppose I could do this now but sounds less interesting somehow!!


    1. Hi Eunice, I hope everything is going well with you and your family. I also hope you’ve had time to squeeze in some writing/editing yourself at times? 😉


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