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Monday, October 29, 2018

Writing by Intuition



I'm a big outliner when it comes to writing. I outline a lot. (Though I still like to leave room for discovering bits and pieces as I go.) I'm also a strong believer that we can learn to write better intentionally and consciously. After all, that's one of my purposes for running this blog: learning to write with intention and control.

But here's the thing.

Not everyone enjoys writing that way.

I argue that learning such things, however, is beneficial even to the discovery writer. (The more you know about storytelling, the more you can discover)

But.

There are instances or even types of people, where writing by intuition is highly effective.

Even for someone who adores outlining scene after scene like me.

So what do I mean by intuition? Do I mean like mother's intuition?

To me, writing by intuition simply means letting your subconscious be your guide.

You see, your subconscious can learn things your conscious mind can't.

Sounds weird?

Don't believe me?

I'll give you an example (assuming you are native English speaker).

What order do these words go in?

1. Five
2. Antique
3. Cars
4. Green
5. Big

Put these words in most correct order. No really, try it. And no peeking until you do ;)

Here are some memes so that there is some scrolling space before the answer.





Okay, did you get:

Five big green antique cars?

Probably most of you did.

But why did you know the most correct order?

Because in the English language, stacked adjectives go in this grammatical order:

1. Quantity or number
2. Quality or opinion
3. Size
4. Age
5. Shape
6. Color
7. Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
8. Purpose or qualifier

* Note that I didn't include all types of adjectives obviously

Did you know that rule?

Unless you are super into the English language or English is not your first language, probably not, even if you are a writer.

But you could do it because your subconscious (a.k.a. your "intuition") has learned that grammatical rule simply by being immersed in the English language. (For another example of how the subconscious works with language, see this post Grammar Girl did.)

If you want yet another example, look up the poem "Jabberwocky"--you'll notice that you know what parts of speech all the words are, even though they are made up and you don't know what they mean. Most people who don't study the English language can still tell, even if they can't explain why.

In storytelling, this exact same thing happens.

This is why often when working on a story or getting a critique from another writer something may feel off, even if no one can pinpoint why. It's because your subconscious knows something is wrong. In some cases, this leads to a manuscript being misdiagnosed. In the best cases, you are able to dissect what's going on and discover the real problem and fix it appropriately.

This is why I truly believe that we can become better writers by pulling what happens subconsciously into the conscious part of our minds, learning how it works, and using it with intention and control.

But guess what? It's not always that simple or direct.

Let me tell you a story.

I have a character in my one of my manuscripts that has been giving me problems through the entire writing process. I did everything I could think of to get him to work. (I later learned that the type of character I'd chosen for this person is considered one of the most difficult types to write (a.k.a. the "boy scout/good guy"). Ignorance is bliss . . . until you are trying to actually write something good enough to publish and can't figure out why this character is giving you such a headache.) I reread parts of books on characterization, listened to Writing Excuses, and once I realized what kind of character type he was, scoured online writing tips for that particular type.

I really worked at it. I mean really.

Every time I had to write or rewrite a scene in his POV, I did everything I could to get into his head.

And when I went back and read through the story as a whole, he was STILL not working well enough.

(And yet by this point he was in the story too deep to completely cut or change either).

I took a long break from the manuscript and picked it up again.

As I went through it, I mentally threw out all of the background information, character profile, files, sheets, or whatever I had on him.

(This is not to be confused with writing him from scratch--mind you, this was still a pretty solid draft.)

And every time I got to one of his scenes, I just started messing around and going through them all intuitively, without trying so hard to make this character work (work dang it! I outlined you so well and spent countless hours, weeks, months, even spent years on you!)


It took a little bit to get myself to loosen up after I'd been trying so hard for so long--every time I got to his scenes, I wrote a note to myself at the top, "playing around version."

But the effects were immediate.

Suddenly this character, who was the toughest character I'd ever written, was working.

I promised myself through the whole edit that when I got to his scenes, I'd let intuition be my guide when it came to tweaking and mending his characterization.

And it totally worked.

What's weird is that it ended up not actually being THAT much work (much less than all the work I put in trying to consciously fix him). The plot was still almost the same. But the tweaks had a huge impact on him.

Even today, months after I finished that draft, I can't consciously tell you why the intuitive choices I made worked so much better than all the million other ways I tried to fix the problem.

As someone who likes to outline and dissect and gain control, this is something that haunts me a little bit.

But it also made the writing process feel magical.

Because I didn't understand why it was working. It just was.

In reality, I saved myself a lot more headaches by letting my intuition FIX this broken character.

Some discovery writers might be reading this and thinking, well, duh! That's what writing is. You let the characters and story tell themselves, and you just transcribe it.

I'm mostly not a discovery writer.

Though I do have characters that do seem to pop up in my mind and all I really need to do is write them down.

The thing was, this was fixing a character that hadn't simply popped up in my mind.

Your subconscious is a powerful thing. It knows things you don't. (That's why it's your "subconscious" of course.) Just like that grammar example above.

For some, all they do is write by intuition. But I think most of us do best by finding our own personal balance between the conscious and subconscious parts.

Surely there is something to be gained from both sides.

So how can we power up our subconscious?

Here are a few tips.


1. Ingest stories


The more we watch, read, and experience stories, the more our subconscious picks up--on our tastes, what works well, what doesn't, and all kinds of other things we aren't fully aware of.

2. Write when you wake up or just before you go to bed


Your subconscious and the creative part of your brain are hard at work when you sleep. Your brain is processing and dealing with problems and issues that are in your subconscious. My personal opinion is that this may be one of the reason we get a little emotional or dramatic or over reactive around this time. Most writers I've asked say they work best when they first wake up or just before bed. It's easier to get your subconscious to be your guide during these times.

3. Meditate before you write


I'm sure my family thinks I'm weird because when I'm struggling to get deep into a particular viewpoint (which has often been THAT character), I turn off the lights in my room when I'm working.

What they don't know is that prior to working, I've lain in bed for maybe 15 minutes with my eyes closed. And prior to that, I was thinking a bit about what I was going to be working on. Lying around in the dark in bed, while inviting that into my subconscious, usually leads me to getting up and suddenly feeling more in tune with whatever I'm about to work on.

It's okay, you guys can think I'm all crazy.

But most people I know who have sincerely tried some type of meditation have noticed real differences. You don't even have to believe in chakras or your third eye or anything else like that.

The thing is, during meditation, your brain waves change.

It can lead you to a state that can be very similar to having just woke up

So if you can't work as soon as you wake up, then meditating just before you write might be a good idea.

4. Let go and allow yourself to play


One common foe to writing by intuition is being too rigid, or worse, a perfectionist. (Not that I would know *wink wink*)

Let go and remember, you can always come back and edit, or if you are editing, you can go back to the earlier draft.

Remember, writing is supposed to be fun!

(Well, at least sometimes!)

If someone like me can benefit that much from writing by intuition, chances are you probably can too, if you don't already. So give it a try.

In the future, I plan on having a discovery writer on here to talk to us about their process. 

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