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Intuitive Writing and Why I’ll Never Go Back to Plotting

What Lies Beneath

The surrealists were on to something when they discovered automatic writing. By shedding the constraints of the rational mind, they were able to tap into the visions dwelling in the well of the unconscious and thereby discovering new truths to explore. Party games like Exquisite Corpse (lovely name) where artists collaborate blindly, perhaps with just their id’s as their guides, show how creativity unleashed is always interesting and often amusing. The “quality” of the results may vary, but what’s useful (for me anyway) about the intuitive approach is it feels like a direct line into the creative brain. This is exactly where I want to be when I’m writing fiction and especially poetry.

Spend any time trawling the internet for writing advice, and you’ll encounter the inevitable plotter vs. pantser debate. Pantser—the name sounds unappetizing—refers to writing by the seat of one’s pants as opposed to working from an outline. I used to be a great proponent of outlining until I just recently tried the intuitive approach on my last few projects. And the results were surprising.

Ain’t gonna lie, I was scared at first. I was an explorer sailing my ship into uncharted territory. But soon I discovered hidden treasures along the way which caused me to release my grip and just allow the story to guide me. Trade winds of fresh ideas filled my sails and I was gliding along freely, not thinking, not planning, just going with the flow. It was lovely. And fun! And before I knew it, three hours of solid writing had zipped by and I didn’t want to stop. Any writer who’s ever forced themselves to push through a writing session knows the difference.

Okay, you might say, that sounds great, but what about the results? Sure, you were having fun, but exactly what kind of unreadable drivel did you produce? Would you be surprised to hear it was some of my best work? Reading it back was a surprising delight. Yes, I had to go back and reshape, but the ideas were there—good ones— and buried not too far beneath, the structure.

Artists like Picasso knew how to paint “realistically” before they became masters of modernism. In other words, the structure may have been abstracted, but it was there. Not comparing myself to Picasso here (ahem) but I’ve studied story structure extensively, including reading Robert McKee’s Story several times and taking his seminar. In other words, I know it well enough to let my thinking side relax a bit, confident that my knowledge of story structure will be residing in my subconscious when the intuitive side takes over.

When embarking on a new writing journey, which side (intuitive or thinking) should be at the wheel and which below deck? After trying both, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to being a plotter.

Which type of writer are you? Have you ever attempted intuitive writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.