Yeah, we got one, too.
Heed The Click: Writing & Intuition
You may not know this, but I have a master’s degree in literary aesthetics. That might sound fancy, but we basically learned about one thing: aesthetics –art, in other words –operates by intuition.
That means that writing well, writing about what matters, writing something worth reading is all about tuning into our intuition.
Now, intuition doesn’t give you a read out like a thermostat. It’s not like one of those bank account apps where you can flick on and see the percentage of your discretionary income that went to eating out. It’s a feeling you have to be quiet enough to hear, a feeling that often squashed by life’s obligations, by the many instances we’re beholden to following someone else’s instructions.
But knowing where to go with your writing, inviting intuition to the fore, can be as simple as dwelling on what would be fun versus what sounds like a drag. Consider the topics, the genres, the moments that feel the most vibrant to you. Listen for the click.
Yes, heed the click. That might sound vague, but you know when there’s a yes — in terms of a project, a character’s motivation, or even a paragraph. You can feel when there’s a that’s what I should do; that’s what I care about; that really moves me. You can also very much feel when it’s, I don’t care about that shit.
If you can tune into that frequency, it makes everything easier. It’s easier in the beginning, when you’re getting started. It’s easier in the middle, when you’re deciding what to leave out and what to work on more. It’s easier at the end when someone gives you unhelpful feedback and you know, “It doesn’t make sense to do that. That’s not the click.”
So, heed the click, but also, wait for it. It’s okay — no, it’s ideal — to start a writing project with little more than a vague sense of something you find interesting, or worrisome, a thing that makes you think: “Wow, I’d really like to write about that but it would mean I would also have to deal with this.”
Trust the process. Sit with the moments that present themselves to you and ask yourself what’s drawing you to them. Think of it like you’re an experienced marine excavator. When you hit a piece of rusted metal with a barnacle on it, you might decide, “Well, that’s obviously nothing.” But the veterans know, “Well, maybe it’s nothing. But maybe it’s attached to the hull of a Spanish galleon.” And then they pull it up and there are doubloons inside.
Now, that hazy hope is not a lot to stand up against the internal dialogue which is always there, even for writers who’ve been practicing for a long time. This is the voice saying, That’s stupid; that’ll never turn into anything, and certainly not anything good. Certainly not as good as what you did last time. There is plenty of anti-intuitive dialogue around and it is entirely unhelpful.
The point is: don’t be looking at that little piece of metal that scraped your leg and made you bleed and decide it’s nothing. Slog deeper into the mud. Your intuition is not going to lead you astray, but it’s also not going to tell you everything all at once because you wouldn’t know what to do with it all. Keep moving forward, even when you’re not entirely sure where you’re headed. It will be clear in time, once the mud has settled and you’re holding that gold coin in your hand.
To that end, I leave you with the words of novelist E. L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”