Finding the Happy Medium

I’ve always been an instinctive writer. I’ve been writing for 25 years (not submitting I hasten to add just in case anyone has visions of Jackie stuck in a garret, toiling away), writing lots of different stuff, poems, science fiction, fantasy, literary, and romance, and all of it just kind of flowed. I had no idea about conflict, about black moments, about character arcs. I didn’t bother with that kind of thing, not beause I felt I knew all about it but because I just thought I would do instinctively. And writing like that served me very well. Up to a point. It got me a letter after the Instant Seduction contest. It got me runner up in Feel the Heat. If I was a bit more instinctive it might have even sold my ‘nearly there’ ms. But the thing is, if you want to stay published, you need more than instinct.

Why? Because when you get a revision letter that tells you to add more internal conflict, you need to a) know what internal conflict is, and b) how to add it. And unfortunately, that’s where instinct failed me and where I had to put on my big girl pants and actually knuckle down to learn craft. I really didn’t want to. Knowing about character arcs and goals and motivation ruined the spark for me. But, after my partial failed at the first hurdle last year, I knew that instinct wasn’t going to be enough. You can have visions of the wonderful house you’d like to build but if you don’t get the framing right, it won’t stand up.

So then I started unlearning 25 years of writing insinctively, re-learning all the craft stuff and actually paying attention to it. Make sure my characters had conflict, make sure they learned from each other, make sure they changed. And guess what? In the process I DID lose the spark. I was concentrating so hard on making sure everything was in place that I lost sight of my instinct. Even doing these revisions, my characters became cardboard cut-outs that I was moving around. I knew them, but they kept shifting on me (and no, they’re not werewolves. Maybe it would have been easier if they were!), they kept changing.

Maisey then offered some advice (because she’s good like that) – just let it all go. Write from your gut. And so, after six months of learning my craft, I put all the craft stuff aside and wrote the way I used to. By instinct. And sure enough, my characters came alive. I slipped into them and they began to speak not with the words I gave them, but as the people that they truly were.
Hello happy medium!

The idea is that I know my craft better now (and no doubt I will keep learning it) so I can see where something’s going wrong. So I can plot properly. So I get the pace right and the conflict straight. And then I have to write like I don’t. Easy.

Anyone else an instinctive writer and find all this craft nonsense a pain in the rear?

13 thoughts on “Finding the Happy Medium”

  1. Great advice from Maisey cos I’ve so been where you are! Not sure I’m completely out of there actually – I find my writing lots less sparky than it used to be! I’m gonna try just letting it all go with the next mss!
    Good luck with yours!

  2. Happy medium huh? i’ll keep going with mine in the mean time (instinct i think with a bit of craft) and look at it once the draft is done. But yay for finding the spark again!!

  3. Rach – yeah, I think for the first draft let it all go. Though I am learning about the value of plotting beforehand. Get the things you need to in the plot, so you can forget about it when you write.

    Kerrin – I say that now… 😉 But definitely craft helps with editing. Can already see where I’ve made my characters too self aware again!

  4. Jenny – certainly helps with the writing, that’s for sure. 🙂

    Caroline – Lol! Had to think what my question was for moment! Anyway, for the record, I agree. Hee hee.

  5. Yep, it’s definitely a “pin” in the butt. Like you, I (used to) write and let the story take me where it wanted. Then I learned all the GMC, POV, HEA crap. I finally drew the line when some know-it-all started banging on about Deep Third! I thought, hang on a minute, I already DO all these things! So why am I confusing myself with labelling what my muse and instinct already know! The only thing I’ve really learned craft-wise is not to head hop. Everything else is yep, pure instinct! Which is why I’m still first and foremost, a pantser!

  6. Well kinda. Then I read my first ms and realise my instinct back then stunk! I like to think it’s better now, but if it is, it’s only because of all the craft courses I did last year. I really knuckled down and learnt as much as I could and then tried again. The results are *so* much better. I think.

  7. Maya – Lol on the HEA, GMC POV crap! What on earth is deep third?? Yup, I know exactly what you mean, though I have learned the value of plotting. 😉

    Joanne – you know, craft books and courses have never done it for me. I think ’cause I need specifics directed at my own ms. That being said, the Plotting Via Motivation course via WriterU was great. Absolutely perfect for category which is all character driven.

  8. Jackie, I’m glad that meant something to you. And it’s something *I* need to remember. Because I’m that girl who sold partly on blind luck, partly because of a very patient ed. I wrote a book with no idea of the fine crafty bit. Internal Conflict? I’d never heard of it! (now, I knew what it was on third round of revisions, but not when I subbed) and I’m still learning. And yeah, all that learning can really do your head in.

    It’s that middle ground!:-)

    Because there’s all that stuff you know, and then there’s the instinct and the creativity and your own unique voice, which is what makes the MS special. And when you can really just let go and let that shine, that’s when you get a winner.

  9. Maisey – so true! And it wasn’t blind luck you sold. Great writing and delivering what the ed wanted sold you.

    Suzanne – I think I NEED to forget the craft aspect. At least for a little while…

  10. I think we all learn constantly as we’re writing. You have to focus on the craft aspect to some degree to become a better writer, BUT you can’t be too analytical about it. Somehow you need to fold in what you’ve learned into your natural writing process and style. AND it still needs to come from the soul and the heart, otherwise it won’t touch others and the characters won’t seem real. A simplistic view, but one that’s seeemed to work for me.

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