Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Writer's Gut

By Mayowa Atte

Not that kind of gut.

I am talking about that other writer’s gut. The writer’s instinct.

Among all the skills and talents a writer must possess to write well, few are as important, far-reaching and ethereal as instinct. What is it, this writer’s instinct? How do we cultivate it? How do we put it to good use?

Let us try a recipe. Take all the experiences that make a writer unique as a human being. Add a large helping of the story the writer wants to tell, plus an equal portion of all the writer knows of the writing craft. Blend vigorously.

What you have at the end is a writer’s instinct. It is what helps a writer choose between two or more equally applicable words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, motivations, actions and consequences. All the ingredients blend into a fluid, personal and inspired inner compass that points the writer towards the true north of the story.

We cultivate the writer’s instinct by building up all the individual ingredients. By living full and vital lives that enrich our experience. By picking the right stories to tell. By reading and writing ceaselessly to better our craft.

How do we put our writing instincts to good use? By listening to them. There are countless moments when a writer’s gut feeling will directly contradict writing convention, the opinions of our editors, beta readers and fellow work shoppers. Our writing instincts should win a good portion of the time.

Why not all the time? Tis a fine line between trusting one’s instincts and being a writing egomaniac. Writers have to know when to accept criticism and feedback, when to ignore their instincts and gain new insights.

Your writing gut is right there. Cherish it, build it into the wonder of muscular magnificence that it is, and listen when it whispers.

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