Even for the most analytic of us the creative process is intuitive to some extent. I’m way over on the analytic end of the spectrum, and I still surprise myself constantly when scenes don’t go the way I’d thought, or characters say or do things in the moment of writing that I’ve never planned. There are choices I make in the writing because they “feel right,” rather than because I’ve thought through all the logical consequences for the story.
Some writers are over on the other end of the spectrum; their primary mode of operation is intuitive, rather than analytic. For them, it’s the thinking and planning parts that are the “once in a while” things that don’t come easily.
A lot of folks seem to think that intuition is something that “just is,” rather than something you can acquire. But a two-year-old doesn’t have any intuition about pacing or plot or characterization. Neither do most seven-year-olds. Intuition is something that people acquire over time; it may be a subconscious synthesis of experience, but it still depends on experience.
And that means that intuition can be trained, or at least influenced, according to what sort of experience one has. This is what’s behind all the urging to read lots of good books and well-written stories – so that you fill up your backbrain with examples of good writing, in hopes that it will use them when it comes time for you to work on your own stories.
But experience in reading is not quite the same as experience with writing. There certainly is plenty of stuff that we absorb about storytelling and writing techniques from reading, but there are also things where observation isn’t enough. One may recognize that a writer’s dialog is great without quite getting exactly how they did it, or absorb the way the pace picks up toward the climax without absorbing the techniques for doing it.
This leads me to two conclusions: first, that being an intuitive writer does not mean one cannot and should not be an analytical reader; and second, that practice in writing is perhaps even more necessary for the intuitive writer than it is for the highly analytical one.
I’m not saying that one ought never to read for fun, without paying much attention to what the writer is doing or how she is doing it, nor that the only sort of reading a prospective writer ought to do should be of the “improving” variety. But I think that it is often well worthwhile to go back to one’s favorite writers and observe the mechanics of one’s favorite bits, with particular attention to the parts one didn’t notice or care about in the for-fun read-through.
I once had an argument with a gentleman over the use and misuse of exposition, a.k.a. infodumps. He took the common position that one ought never, ever, ever to use them; exposition was bad writing per se. I asked him if he’d ever read James White’s Sector General novels. He said he had, and they proved his point; there was no exposition in them, not anywhere at all. I asked him to go home and read one of them again, paying particular attention to what was actually going on, writing-wise, during the scenes in which the doctors are being briefed on the puzzling new cases that they are going to be dealing with for the rest of the novel.
He did, and came back half-appalled and half-apologetic. Because White segues from fully-dramatized “showing” to exposition and back in those scenes, so smoothly that this reader had never noticed that they contained two to five pages of exposition right in the middle of the scene.
If this reader had never actually studied those scenes to find out what the writer was really doing, I can see one of two things happening: either he’d have tried to write without any exposition at all, ever, never recognizing when it could work or realizing how to make it work; or his intuition would keep trying to make him write exposition (because he’d subconsciously absorbed some of White’s technique) and he’d keep fighting with it and never would get it right because he didn’t know he could do that.
So my first recommendation to intuitive writers is the same as everyone else’s: read a lot. But I’d go a step farther and say, from time to time, stop (or go back) and study your favorite bits by your favorite writers. Do at least some analytical reading, and see if it makes a difference. If it doesn’t, stop…but at least give it a try.
My second recommendation is to be observant about your own process. What gets your writing juices flowing? Do you get into things faster if you start your writing session by reading something good – a favorite passage by someone else, or some poetry? Or do you work best when you don’t look at anyone else’s stuff before you write some of your own? What about other things? I know a fair number of writers who make themselves a sound track of various music that gets them in the mood for the book they’re working on, but what about pictures?
If you watch yourself, you may find that music isn’t your thing, but a slide show of pictures on your computer may be just what you need. When I was working on The Mislaid Magician, I changed my computer wallpaper to a period map of England. Every time I turned it on, it reminded me of what I was working on, and it helped.
My third recommendation is one that I personally would hate, and I wouldn’t blame you for not trying it, but here it is: do some writing exercises. If intuition is trained by practice, and you want to train it to do the right things, then deliberately working on exercises that target techniques you’re not good at may work like playing scales on the piano (I hated those, too), as a way of making “doing this right” a habit that you don’t have to think about when you get to work on your pay copy.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment, especially if things aren’t moving. Because if they aren’t moving anyway, it’s not going to hurt to try something radical, like writing the last scene first or drawing stick-figure diagrams of how the rest of the plot might go, or dressing up in costume to write the next scene. If it works, it works, and you don’t have to admit to anyone that that’s what you did if you’re embarrassed about it. This is one of the good things about writing being a solitary occupation.
And one last thing: remember that I’m mainly an analytical writer. Most of this comes from observation of other writers who are more intuitive than I am, so if you are an intuitive writer and you try it and it doesn’t work, do something else. Whatever your intuition tells you.