A post at The Creative Penn: Intuitive Writing And Book Marketing With Becca Syme
Wait, writing AND marketing?
Well, that is the idea: Do you sometimes just ‘know’ when a story is right? Does something ‘click’ during the writing process and suddenly things make sense? Do you lean into your curiosity and emotion when it comes to writing and marketing?
I think I’d have separated these out into two different posts, but okay. This is actually a podcast interview, but with a written transcript.
Today we’re talking about Dear Writer, Are You Intuitive? co-written with Susan Bischoff, which was one of my books of the year in 2022. So welcome back to the show, Becca. …
… [A} lot of intuitives who are writers will have watched movies, read books, listened to oral storytellers who are extremely proficient at storytelling, and they will have naturally intuited the connections between plot points, and then they will write their books according to that intuition. … you’ll be watching a movie, and you’ll see the flavor of a particular line of dialogue that produced an emotion in you, and then you’ll know once you’ve seen that 10 or 15 times, you will know how to utilize that device in your own writing, but you could not describe to me how you do it.
Yes, yes, this is all true, but why is this worth pointing out? What’s the point here?
Here it is:
The reason people tell us you can’t write without intention is because they can’t. So the people who are … teaching this stuff [eg intentional plot structure such as putting the inciting incident at the 10% mark], have come about their theories honestly. … of course, there should be a complete guide to [being an intentional writer, an outliner], which there is. There’s plenty of them, we don’t need another one. Like, there’s a lot.
What we need is more information about how to be a good discovery writer. Not how to use plotting techniques to correct a behavior that is not incorrect, but how to be a good discovery writer. How to use tools and tactics to get unstuck consistently, things like that, so that we’re not putting undue stress on ourselves. But also, we need to learn how to trust the intuitive storytelling mechanism that’s inside.
Bold is mine, added just for clarity. And as you see, I’ve added or rephrased stuff in square brackets, again to improve clarity since I’m lifting this out of its full context. But I think this is a useful and important observation, that the lion’s share of writing advice is meant for writers who write via outlines, analytically, possibly paying close attention to “save the cat” or other patterns that are frequently taught to prospective writers. I first heard about the “save the cat” thing as “pet the puppy.” Either way, that’s the moment near the beginning of the story when the protagonist is established as sympathetic because he or she does something nice because they just want to; eg, save a cat.
Here’s a pictoral representation of that pattern:
And, importantly, this kind of advice is not helpful to intuitive writers (discovery writers, pantsers). This reminds me of something I said in a recent post, that I’m just as glad there was much less writing advice available when I was starting to write, because I agree with the linked post that analyzing story structure may be interesting, but is not at all helpful to discovery writers; and that telling discovery writers or pantsers that they’re doing it wrong — which I do in fact see ALL THE TIME — is not a great thing to do.
I’m thinking here of the continual drumbeat of advice that goes like this:
–You should outline
–No, really, if you aren’t outlining, you should outline
–You’d be so much faster if you outlined
–You should definitely outline
And yes you do see this kind of dogmatic advice to outline everywhere, on all kinds of blog posts and in all kinds of Quora answers and just everywhere. This is fine for me because I have no trouble ignoring advice that doesn’t work for me, but even I notice how often that advice appears and how absolutely certain of themselves the people who offer that advice usually sound. It’s not fine to continually press this advice on prospective writers who think maybe they should take it seriously when they really can’t and also shouldn’t try to force themselves to do so.
Again, whether you’re intuitive or not, I think you should always be developing your craft, period. But what I would do when you’re getting edits, or when you’re getting feedback on your story, is I would be asking about the quality. Does the quality of the edit match my personal storytelling preference? Because if the editor is telling you, “Hey, you waited too long for the inciting incident,” and when you ask them about it, they say, “Well, because it has to happen at 10%,” then they are not the right editor for you. Like they’re just not.
Bold in the original, and right, this is true, if an editor think the inciting incident, what “save the cat” refers to as the catalyst, has to happen at the 10% mark, then the editor isn’t evaluating whether the story actually works with the inciting incident somewhere else.
The inciting incident, as you would expect, is the event that occurs near to the beginning of your story, the trigger that sets your protagonist and the story moving in a different direction. I’m pausing here to ask, what is the inciting incident in Tuyo? That incident doesn’t occur at the 10% mark, does it? No. It occurs at the 0.1% mark, about two pages into the story, when Ryo meets Aras for the first time. In my opinion, that is the actual inciting incident. Good thing it never occurred to me to wonder if that was a good place for the inciting incident.
The post goes on:
And of course, there are intuitive editors, in the same way that there are intuitive writers. And so I would always be on the lookout for someone who is going to ask the right questions of your books, and not someone who is going to only ask structural questions.
Right, and I think the only question that actually matters is: Does the story work as well as it can? If not, what could be improved? And those are not structural questions. The answers to those questions might or might not involve story structure. And this is what we see as the takehome message from the linked post as well:
“Is the story compelling?” is the right question to ask. And I would say, so how do we get there if we’re newer? I would always try to follow the intuition that you have about the way you want to write the story.
And then check your intuition against someone who will tell you if the story is compelling or not. I wouldn’t trend towards trying to outline first, unless you literally can’t think of anything else to do, or your intuition is like, “no, I need to know what the structure is,” and then I would listen to that. … it’s possible that you need to experiment. But I would also always listen to your own intuition first, before you listen to teachers, period.
Bold in the original, and wow, is it refreshing to see someone say, “I wouldn’t try to outline first unless you literally can’t think of anything else to do.”
That’s not where the linked post ends — it’s quite long — and I will end with a bit that is particularly funny:
No one knows 100% how a book is going to do because this industry is run by Loki, the god of chaos.
And it is not run by Captain America, the god of logic. I know Captain America is not a god, but like, I mean, you could make an argument. But that’s not how the industry works. It is not predictable in that way.
And then the post segues into marketing. By all means click through and read the whole thing if you’re interested — this is a good post, not one of the facile short ones that someone tossed on the page in five minutes, but thoughtful and interesting.