I invited one of the people I teach how to express herself creatively to challenge me with a writing project similar to the ones I give her. The premise was that I would do this while she waited and then go over with her what I did mentally, as best I could explain, to produce the story by using intuition rather than planning and outline.
I don’t write my stories from an outline, never have. My writing process is intuitive and stems from my having a good connection to, and trusting, my voice. It has never let me down creatively.
When I read Stephen King telling his process for writing, I felt such relief. I had been reading all my life about people starting out with an outline, how to write that outline, how to develop character sheets and plot lines and structure with specific acts and formulae for those acts…I was sure I had been doing it wrong.
But I just couldn’t approach my writing in that manner. The structure and planning ideas made me never want to write. I simply didn’t operate that way, and it went so against my grain that I closed myself off from the world and just did my thing and didn’t tell anyone how I made things happen. I just wrote. I trusted my voice.
Now, this doesn’t say I don’t know where things are going: I simply trust that my mind will provide what I need when I need it.
I usually have a flash or imagined scene that becomes the kernel for the story, and, somehow, in that part of my mind that doesn’t sleep and is intimately tied in with metaphor and probability, the story evolves in my head. I watch it unfold and just write the thing down—and some of that stuff is remarkably complex and detailed, all parts fitting in where they should and developing as they should.
The following is one such example. I was tasked with the following: “You are in a grocery store and your ex-wife is there. You both reach for the same item on the shelf.”
This was the kernel, and as soon as she released the words to my ears, my intuitive, visual engine kicked into gear, and I let it work. I started writing and had this knocked out in about 6 or 7 minutes.
Remember, the following is a work of fiction. I’ll comment on the process afterward:
Our hands touched. I had been reaching for the last set of batteries and hadn’t expected a hand to come from the other side of the shelf. The last set of batteries and with the world coming to an end. My brain went through all the things a male goes through: how her fingers felt against mine, how did the rest of that arm, and more importantly, the rest of that body look? I didn’t have a lot of time to think. She pulled hard on the battery package, and an instinct took over: I pulled back. Any other time this wouldn’t have been a problem; I would have yielded the package to her like my mother taught me. But this wasn’t any normal time. It was the end of things. The end of the world effectively.
She thrust her other hand into the shelf space between us and swore at me, clutching wildly as if her life depended on it—and it probably did.
I knew that voice. I couldn’t believe that I had inadvertently been thrust into life with that voice, that person, again.
I did not like this person.
She was stupid evil.
Now there’s something to be said about being intelligent and evil—that I could respect. But stupid evil has its own sour flavor on the mind. She was that entirely. She did things on emotional impulse. She was the reason I created the phase, “Women don’t know what they want, and they want it right now.”
I pulled hard on the package, adding my other hand into the mix only long enough to bat at her fingers with the small hammer it was holding.
There was a sharp yelp.
And I got the batteries.
I rushed out before she could realize who had taken this little essential from her life, as she had taken so much from mine. Had she known who had popped her knuckles with the hammer, I would’ve been one step closer to the apocalypse than we all were.
Early on in the imagination phase of this processing I saw not only our hands touching, but our arms. I didn’t like that feel. Didn’t like the place it would have taken me. This was a gut-instinct realization, emotional. I didn’t question it, I just imagined a different perspective, that of not seeing the other person. My mind created the image of both of us reaching through opposite sides of the shelf. I liked this. It felt right, so I let the scene play out in my head and I wrote down what I was seeing.
I didn’t know this was going to be an apocalyptic setting. That just popped in out of nowhere and I went with feelings such a time would produce emotionally. It made grabbing this thing, which then turned out to be batteries—always an apocalyptic necessity—an imperative. It could’ve meant life or death to the people in the story.
This changed the ex-wife’s personality some, she became bold and started cussing me out. Her fingernails, in my imagination, actually cut into the flesh of my fingers. I didn’t write that down, but I saw it happen. She was not a nice woman.
My directive with this story was to make it short so I could explain my intuitive writing process and still have sunlight in the sky while doing so. Little things like the fingernails drawing blood would’ve been fine if I had more time, but it didn’t harm the story by not having it in there.
I knew there was something in my other hand, it just turned out to be a little hammer, the kind you give to your son or daughter when they are first learning to pound a nail into wood to make a bird house. It wasn’t big, but it gave a little weighty metal emphasis to the scene.
The ex had to have a bad personality. That was just the feel that came to me, again intuitively. In the end it turned out to allow the man in the story a level of forgiveness for what he did with the hammer. If the man was evil stupid, then perhaps she would’ve materialized a box cutter or some such item and things might’ve gotten a bit red and slippery.
The intuitive process is one of trust. In the third novel of my Unnatural series I know how the ending is going to turn out: I’ve caught a glimpse of it before I even finished the second novel. I trust that my mind is already working on all the background nitty-gritty for me, and I simply sit and watch things unfold and write them down.
I’ve never had writer’s block and have more stories to put down than my lithe fingers have time to tap out on the keys. Next blog I will detail more on the intuitive writing process. I will provide you with an exercise and an accompanying audio visualization to help you break the planning barrier and step into the realm of the intuitive to help finish the exercise.
For those of you grasping with tight, bloodless fingers to your outline and planning pads and screaming, “No! Nooooo!”—this process doesn’t mean you can’t use them. The intuitive process can help free you from the fear of not knowing where to go next in your writing; trust that little engine in you that could…and can.