Monday, March 06, 2006

Writer's Intuition

I remembered a story the other day, and it has me thinking about a few things.

A writer was on one of my early listservs, about six years ago. She was multi-published, but had just gotten a new editor. This editor asked her for the outline of her next book, something that had never been asked of her before.

The writer took a book, put it on a sheet of paper, traced its outline with a pencil, and faxed the sheet to the editor.

I think it is safe to say that writer was what we call a "pantser." She did not do outlines and wrote by the seat of her pants.

Are you a "pantser" or a "planner?" This question gets discussed and debated among writers, and the answer appears to be interesting to readers too. Do you know your plot before you begin? How much detail do you outline first? Do you just sail into the mist without a chart, letting the story unfold as it goes, writing by the "seat of your pants"?

We know that both systems work. Neither one is more correct. I have been thinking about these differences, however, and wondering about my own "pantser" tendencies. I cling to them, even now that I have to do some planning in advance. My refusal to outline in detail goes beyond mere preference, however, and I've been wondering why.

Fiction writing has been an extremely intuitive process for me. I suspect it is for everyone, no matter how much detail gets into an outline. I have come to realize that the stimulation of my intuition is a large part of the appeal for me, however.

Are you a highly intuitive person? Do you trust your gut more than your logical analysis of a situation? Ten years ago, I would have emphatically said "no" to that question. My rational side dominated, or so I believed. In the least, I did not trust my intuitive reactions.

Writing novels changed that. Freeing my intuitive side created an intoxifying change in me. A dam had been holding all that in, and writing fiction broke the dam.

I became aware of the way stories worked themselves out in my subconscious, and how words and ideas and layers appeared out of nowhere as I wrote. I slowly came to appreciate that a balance had been restored in my spirit.

In the last few years, however, a peculiar thing has happened. This intuitive side has begun playing a bigger role in my life outside of writing. I increasingly trust my gut in many situations now. I also realize how much I did in the past too. I simply did not admit to myself that I was allowing intuition to guide me. The voice was always there and I always heard it, I just did not acknowledge it existed. At the same time, however, I am less likely to sail into the mist in my writing.

Now I wonder if a different lack of balance is forming, one where I give too much weight to those intuitive reactions outside of writing, and not enough when I write. This is the opposite of when I began my first novel.

The play between the two is important, I think. One has to check the other in order for either to work right. I can't go through life ignoring what my brain says about situations. Finding that balance as I write is important too. It can't all be intuitive.

I think that finding that balance, centering myself between the two, is essential to my writing. So I have been making some changes in how I write, to make sure the mist doesn't clear completely.

It is the surprise of discovery that makes writing and reading exciting for me, after all.


Allison Brennan said...

I don't plot. Can't, won't, don't. If I know how the book is going to end, I won't write it!

I'd like a little more balance, but I have to take what I can get. And what I get is binge days, some days where I write 20-30 pages, and others where I write . . . nada.

JoAnn Ross said...

Allison -- You don't even know how the book's going to end? (Or at least have some vague idea who the bad guy is?) Wow. And I thought I worked without a net. You're up there without even a tightrope!