Monday, January 21, 2013
How Do You Teach Writer's Instinct?
Before I dive into the post, a heads up that I'm guest posting today at Query Tracker, chatting about what your query letter says about your novel. I invite you to pop on over and say hello when you're done here. It's a great blog (and site) if you haven't discovered it yet.
I had a fantastic writing day last week. One of those sessions where everything clicks and pieces fall into place, and your fingers fly across the keyboard.
I was writing a scene where my character, a twelve-year-old boy, sneaked into a fellow boy's room. He gave the room a looksie, and I needed a few quick details to flesh out the setting. Boy stuff. Something normal, something embarrassing the POV could tease the other boy about, and something that would be impressive. These details weren't planned, just things I conjured up right then and there that would be A) details my POV would notice, and B) things the owner of the room would have. I wrote the scene and moved on.
Next scene, my POV had gotten himself into trouble, and I had him pick up the really impressive item and hold it hostage. It was perfect, but it wasn't planned, and I'd had no idea I was going to write it until it was happening. It wasn't part of my outline, or the summary paragraph I'd written at the start of the session. My subconscious put the pieces together to form the perfect event for that scene.
And then it hit me.
How in the world would I teach another writer this?
I can talk (and do) ad nauseam about technique and craft and structure, but when it comes right down to the writer and the page, there's that spark that can't be explained. I can't give examples on how to make your subconscious randomly pull out the perfect details you'll need three pages later.
I find that annoyingly frustrating.
Because this is the kind of thing I want to help other writers get. The thing that might be missing that is making them want to pull their hair out. That might even be the reason they're getting rejections instead of requests.
Maybe it's talent. Maybe it's instinct. Maybe it's just pure luck, I don't know, but the writing that always shines brightest for me are the words that I never expected to write.
So, hard as this may be, I'm going to try to offer tips on fanning the writer's spark in yourself.
1. Be open to gut feelings
Had I followed my outline and ignored the little voice in my head that saw the wonderful connections before I did, I'd never have written this scene. But as soon as I felt it I knew it was the right way to go. Forget the outline.
When you feel the urge or the pull of the story to go another way than you originally planned, go with it. Maybe it's nothing, but maybe it's the scene clicking together in a way that's far better than your first idea.
(More on trusting your writer's compass)
2. Go with first impressions
There's a lot of advice out there about ignoring the first ideas that come to mind, because they're usually the most common, clichéd, or just plain overdone. This is good advice, but sometimes, the things that immediately pop into your head are things your subconscious has already sifted through for you.
When things come to mind during that first draft, maybe it's better not to throw them away, hoping for a better option. There's always the second draft for second guesses. And by then, you'll have the entire story done so you'll be in a much better position to know what's working and what isn't.
(More on what if you don't know what's working)
3. Don't try to be perfect with every line
If I'd spent fifteen minutes thinking about the perfect teen boy's room, odds are I wouldn't have used the details I pulled out of the air. I'd have had reasons for them, the descriptions would have been crafted with just the right tone, the right words, and the scene probably would have turned out very differently.
It's easy to over think the writing. Storytelling is an organic process, and while it can be as structured or as loose and you want it to be, striving for perfection early on can strangle your creativity.
4. Just wing it
The spontaneity was made it all work for me. I was in the moment, in the character, thinking like a twelve-year-old boy. That kept me in his mindset so I could see the room as he saw it when I needed to. I just went with what was happening and tried to keep up with the character. Spending more time in the story and less time thinking about the story freed me from the technical aspects of writing and let me embrace the storytelling aspects.
Sometimes just writing what pops into your head is the right course of action. What the muse is working, it's rude to argue with her.
5. Hope for the best
When I'm in the writing zone, I just write and hope it all works out. I'm not pantsing, I do have an outline and a plan, but I try to leave myself open to those moments of inspiration. I can't force them, but I've gotten pretty good at recognizing them when they appear. That's when I feel the story becoming more than just words on a page.
Trust yourself to write what moves you, especially in a first draft. Unfettered emotion and creativity can get you a lot further than craft and technique.
Much of writing is skills you can learn and teach, but an important part of it is simply being "a writer." It's not easy to explain or diagram, not something learned, but something felt. Even when the work isn't great yet, there are moments when the muse takes over and the work transcends.
Others can help fan the flames, but the writer might have to bring the spark.
What do you think? Can instinct can be taught? Are there aspects of creativity that someone is born with, or can anyone learn to be creative?