Thursday, August 27, 2009


As usual, this post was inspired by something else. Go figure. The lucky source of inspiration today is . . . Lady Glamis! Why? Well, because she wrote this really in-depth post called diving deep on her blog.

So, you know the drill, hop on over there, read the post, and then come back here.

Okay, since you've read the post (you better have, because otherwise nothing I'm writing here is going to make the least bit of sense) . . .

Question: do you let your instinct, intuition, guide you when you're writing?

If you answered heck, yeah! then there's no need to keep reading this post. If you went huh?, then you might want to keep reading.

I've learned to trust my instinct when writing. Heck, I've learned to trust my instinct in life. The few times I've ignored my instinct bad, very bad, things have happened.

So, I'm writing along, word after word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, watch those pesky adverbs, chapter after chapter, and then - suddenly (sorry, couldn't resist) - BAM! I hit the wall. My fingers freeze over the keyboard and my brain, well, my brain is at a standstill. There's not a single synapse synapsing, oh, except for the one sending this message: crap, now where was I going with this chapter. I recover from this moment and begin typing again . . . slower, slower, slower still, even more slowly (creep, creep, creep), and then the fingers are hovering above the keyboard again and my brow is furrowed in intent concentration.

The Void. Writer's Block. Dramatic Overwhelm. Okay, if you don't know what dramatic overwhelm means, then you've obviously not read the post I insisted you read.

Okay, maybe it's not exactly the dramatic overwhelm Lady Glamis talked about, but the very ideal made me start thinking about instinct and how, in trusting my instinct, I'm better able to write.

I think every writer experiences dramatic overwhelm at some point.

I also think we (or at least some of us) subconsciously recognize the moment we enter into the realm of overwhelm.

When I get stuck in my writing, when a chapter is just not working, I step away for a day and then come back with fresh eyes. In most instances, I erase what I wrote the day before and begin anew. I think I recognized that something wasn't working, so my instincts made me stop.

I also think the deeper we dive, the better our writing will become. I know when I've written strictly from my heart, no thought of audience or what people might think, I've written some of the best stuff I can possible write. It is when I write while considering what others might think that my writing becomes sluggish and, possibly, it is that moment when I enter the realm of overwhelm.

Yes, I know, we need to consider our audience. I just think when we pay too much attention to what other's think, then we begin to lose something of ourselves.

There will come a point when we must consider our audience. It's when we have an agent, an editor, and a publisher willing to take a chance on our brilliance. It is then, when the agent and/or editor says . . . well, you need to change this, this, that, this, that, this, oh, and could you eliminate entirely Chapter 22. Yes, we'll fight for our writing, our beliefs, and everything else, but I would like to hope that I, at that point in time, would be able to recognize that perhaps the changes I'm being asked to make are because I became mired in Dramatic Overwhelm.

In the end, or perhaps the beginning, we (I) must rely on our (my) instinct to guide us (me) past the moments of overwhelm and onto the brilliance we (I) am capable of achieving.

For some, it will be an extensive outlining process. For some, there will be index cards strewn throughout their offices. For some, there will be haphazard notes here, there, and everywhere (this is possibly me, but I'm not telling for sure). We all write as we write, and we write how we are comfortable, and, most important of all, we should let our instincts guide us.

When you hit the wall, the Void, the moment of writer's block, step back, close your eyes, and listen closely to your instinct. It is there, deep inside you, where you will find the path that particularl story needs to take.

So, dear readers, now the initial question falls back to you . . .do you let your instinct, intuition, guide you when you're writing?



Michelle said...

I think it's a combination of instinct and craft. One thing I've learned is that with practice, craft can become instinctive.

When I was learning to fire the gas pottery kiln, I had a difficult time understanding the correct settings on the burners. There's no "low" or "high", but a subtle combination of the color and shape of the flame, along with a particular sound. I'd double and triple check myself, but after a couple of years, knowing how to get the right setting was a gut thing. I knew when it was right. There were days when I didn't feel good about it and went back to readjust the valves three or four times. Writing is the same for me.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Yeah, listen hard...the gut hardly ever lies.

Lady Glamis said...

Thanks for the shout out, Scott! It was really Victoria's brilliant post that brought all of this on. If you haven't read that, you should!

Michelle hits it on the head when she says craft can become instinctive. That was a bit of the point I was trying to make - that even outlining and all that icky planning is something that happens instinctually in many of us, and doesn't even feel like planning most of the time. It's just part of that instinctual writing process.

Scott said...

Michelle - agree 100%. As a writer, I'm always learning . . . which is why I follow so many blogs. Everyday I write, is a day that I'm honing my craft. I think after time, we instinctively know where the story should go, even if we (well, me) don't outline in great detail. So, when a chapter is not working, I pretty well know that my instinct is shouting at me to 'step away from the computer'. I do, go back the next day, and normally delete everything and start the chapter anew!

Angie - agree!!! The gut knows what the mind isn't willing to accept!

Lady Glamis - you're welcome. I did read the post. You both gave me plenty to think about . . . in a good way. I truly think I write my best when I forget about rules and audience and everything, and just write from the heart. The rules, audience, and everything comes into play during revision stage.


ElanaJ said...

I think I let my instinct win when I'm writing. Of course, I still try to choose the very best words and arrange them in the very best way before I type them up. But as for the ideas, where the plot goes, who narrates, that's all instinct.

Davin Malasarn said...

Great post! It took me a long time, but I have learned to trust my instincts again. And, even now it is a struggle. I was all instinct when I first started writing, and then I learned "the rules" that, while totally valuable, did mess me up for a time. Now, I know a lot of the rules and, more importantly, why they're there. I've internalized a lot of them, which allows me to forget about them and go on instinct again. It's strange because it's both the easiest thing in the world to go on instinct and the hardest thing in the world at the same time.

Scott said...

Elana - I think instinct comes into play more with the plot and situations of the writing process. For me, when I'm really struggling with a passage is when I seem to rely heavily on my instinct.

Davin - I think when we know the rules, and which ones we're willing to break, the rules then become an instinctive part of our writing process. Every now and then, I seem to ignore my instinct . . . which makes the writing more difficult, and eventually leads me to highlighting a huge section and hitting DELETE!


Robyn Campbell said...

UGH. I too have learned to trust my gut feeling. In the story I finished in June I went in and deleted about eight chapters. I knew it could be much better. And it is. :) It is more than instinct though. It is all the things we as writers have learned. All wrapped up and it leads us where we need to go. And Scott, I have emailed Lea and I will let you know about the conference. It is so good.:)

B.J. Anderson said...

Yes, my gut has never failed me, so I'll keep on listening. :D

Scott said...

Robyn - yes, instinct plus knowledge = brilliantly executed ideas. Thanks for checking on the conference. : )

B.J. - the gut always knows what the mind isn't willing to accept! It took me awhile to figure that out, but now when I'm struggling with my writing, I just step back for a bit to refocus my energy and give my brain time to accept what instinct is shouting!