The Great Writer’s Instincts

Recently, while mulling over a WIP, I started feeling very apprehensive about the story itself, in all its entirety. Were my worries of simplicity and conventionality paranoia or was my story really trash? Nobody will care about this story… the hero is not interesting enough… her obstacles aren’t challenging… I had to talk to somebody. I began on a rant about all the literary rules I was breaking and all the writer’s advice I was forgetting to apply to my story.

The advice I got was simple. Stop thinking and just write from your gut.

Of course, I should take into consideration that this came from a person who just wanted to go back to sleep and get rid of me. Nevertheless, I think the advice was sound. Except, after all the time I spent thinking logically and pragmatically about my writing, how I do I make the shift into passionate, effortless writing?

Writing viscerally means transcending what you’ve been told about literature, while remaining connected to that knowledge, and listening to the past, present, and future of yourself and your world. It requires a great deal of character (no, I don’t mean the fictional kind), confidence and the courage to put all of yourself into your writing. Great writers open themselves and their minds and let the world flow through them. Great writers (and artists in general) are sieves which leave us with filtered versions of their world. It isn’t that these writers are better people or that they are more interesting; it is their sensitivity to their surroundings and their ability to regurgitate their experiences.

What I need, and what I think many writers could benefit from, is a dose of moderation.  To detach myself completely would be a mistake. But to continue on this narrow path of writing tips and literary instruction is also wrong. I will try to center myself between my instincts and my how-to books, between my self and the advice of others. For me, the most important aspect of writing is to ensure that it is a creation all my own. To feel the airs of inspiration is necessary, sure. We should still try to, as T.S. Elliot says, “steal” from great writers. But what we steal should be open and flexible enough so that we are still able to work with it and make it our own. Now when I write, I will try to remember to ask myself: is my voice coming through? Does it reflect my own originality? Am I contributing as much of myself as possible?

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dirtywhitecandy
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 17:50:41

    We need craft, but too much theory can feel stifling. The moment when you decide to let your voice and originality to come through as well is like reaching a stage of maturity. Sadly, though, I don’t think anyone goes back to those days when the words pour effortlessly out. I’m currently having a horrid time with my WIP!

    Reply

    • Dominique
      Apr 22, 2010 @ 20:48:18

      Yeah, it affects my reading too. I’ve noticed myself reading more like a writer/editor and less like a bookworm. It’s definitely a problem.

      Sorry to hear about your story troubles, Roz. Whatever it is — I’m sure it’s a passing phase.

      Reply

  2. Jane Kennedy Sutton
    Apr 27, 2010 @ 14:48:54

    I have those moments of paranoia especially during the 3 or 4th revision. In fact, most of the writers I know experience it at some point. When it happens to me, I find it’s helpful to put it away and work on something else for a while.

    And you are so right – all the writing advice in the world won’t help if you don’t allow your voice to shine through. On Whole Latte Life http://joannedemaio.blogspot.com/ yesterday, I think Joanne put it perfectly in her blog saying, “When you create, never, never fight your stripes.”

    Reply

  3. Dominique
    Apr 27, 2010 @ 15:54:03

    Thanks for stopping by, Jane :)

    3rd or 4th revision…. Yupp, that hits the nail right on the head. And it’s extra terrible for me because I edit a lot while I write (a horrible vice) and I end up doubting my story before it’s even completed — I’m ridiculous!

    Reply

  4. Verdonk
    Apr 27, 2010 @ 22:41:44

    Nothing beats instinct. But instinct too is learned. Train in karate. Your sensei makes you block, parry, block, parry till you are exhausted and start to question your sanity. But after weeks and months, your body knows ways to move that your mind could never encompass. Or take comedians who work the clubs. They learn to cope with a crowd, how to read and go with the flow.

    All of these examples are about training your creative instincts. Too much “how to” advice is confusing, but just giving up any aspiration of craft and saying, “I’ll go with my gut” could lead you astray too. The real lesson is the one you learn by writing. Every hard day, every day of bad work, every day that you think, “This is crap, I should get a proper job” – that is like the comedian getting booed off stage. Stick with it. Every day you put in at the keyboard is making you better.

    Olympic athletes had a hard time training too. They listened to their coaches (that’s the “craft advice”) and they combined that with their WIP-type experience. Between the two, you *can* get to gold!

    Reply

  5. Trackback: We Can Work It Out: Using Research in Your Fiction « The Writings of Doobla
  6. Maribeth
    May 18, 2010 @ 12:54:24

    When you write from instinct it becomes believable. Any time I tried to write what I thought should be written, I found that my words seemed forced. Write first, then worry later about the fine tuning.

    Hey, did you get your gift?

    Maribeth

    Reply

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