Ever feel like a clumsy juggler when trying to keep all the elements of a story going? With so many balls in the air, you lose track of which one to catch next or where to throw it once you do. You wonder how anyone manages to write a novel without resembling a cartoon character with steam coming out the ears.
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Maybe you know an author with the effortless ability to weave plot, characters, setting, dialogue and narrative into a seamless tapestry. This intuitive writer must have received a double portion of talent.
That might be true, or something else could be at play.
Become an Intuitive Writer
I’m writing this post after being asked how I manage to create such intimate characters. I had to think about that because a lot of the techniques I use are instinctive. Lately, it’s been borne in on me that other writers don’t always write this way. And that started me wondering if intuitive writing is simply a function of talent or something that can be trained.
At the time, I happened to be reading Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier, the autobiography of an author with writing so creative it could only have come straight from the soul. Since reading Jamaica Inn, I’ve tried to find out whatever I can about the author in the hope of gleaning something from this master of the craft for my own writing.
Two things stood out to me from Daphne du Maurier’s description of her early life, factors that helped form her into an intuitive author.
The first is that she grew up in an environment that supported creativity. Daphne’s father was acclaimed actor Gerald du Maurier, who played the original Captain Hook in Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, the stage play by J. M. Barre, and her grandfather, George du Maurier, was both an artist and the author who created the memorable character of Svengali in his novel, Trilby. Daphne and her two sisters were allowed, even encouraged, to make-believe, and they often portrayed characters from the books they read.
Daphne read incessantly, the second compelling fact I learned about her. I went back through Myself When Young and wrote down every book or play she mentioned having read. I counted 64 titles, but the list is much longer. Daphne sometimes named her favorite authors without listing all the titles she read.)
Daphne du Maurier didn’t read fluff, and I suspect this was an integral part of her becoming an excellent author, herself. Her reading list includes:
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
- Bleak House by Charles Dickens
- Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
- The Wreckers by Iain Lawrence
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
- The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson
- The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
Authors mentioned as favorites include:
- William Makepeace Thackeray
- Sir Walter Scott
- Charles Dickens
- John Galsworthy
- Katherine Mansfield
- Lord Byron
- Oscar Wilde
- Guy de Maupassant
- Anatole France
In Daphne’s life story, I saw parallels to my own early reading obsession and penchant for make-believe. (I even spent time on theatrical stages.) Other writers have mentioned being avid readers and engaging in creative play as well. I believe these two activities lay the groundwork for becoming an intuitive writer.
Reading well-written books while growing up taught me how to tell a story. Without consciously studying, I internalized best practices in plotting, pacing , dialogue, description, characterization, and other story elements. (I should mention here that I did also study the writing craft more formally, as well.)
Creative play sparks the imagination and nurtures creativity. This fills the same well we draw from when we write. Watching movies sparks creativity for some writers as they enter the story world and identify with the protagonist. This is a form of make-believe.
My conclusion, from all this analysis, is that becoming an intuitive writer calls for avid reading and creative play. I can’t think of a happier lifestyle, can you?
What are your thoughts on this method of becoming an intuitive writer?