Intellect vs Intuition

In studying writing, it occurs to me that there are two distinct parts to it: the intellectual and the intuitive.  (As a side benefit, that came out nicely alliterative.)

The intellectual side refers to issues of craft—stuff that comes out when someone critiques your work. Things you discuss with an editor. In some ways, this side is easier to learn. Not that it’s easy; there’s a tremendous amount to learn about character, structure, imagery, dialogue, and so on. Shoot, I still puzzle over grammar.

But the intellectual side is tangible and available to everyone.  There are classes to take, about a gazillion ‘how to write’ articles to read, people to debate with. And there’s always the classic, read everything and analyze it like a writer. All of this is external, out there for you to see and figure out.

The intellectual side appeals to your inner critic. The intellectual side is where you get to look at your own work and break it down. Sure, it’s important to look and figure out what is working well, but sometimes the temptation to get bogged down in what isn’t working is hard to resist.

The intuitive side is more internal. This is the creative side, the part that makes strange leaps into deep water that turns out to be hot fudge sauce and chili. And yes, there are classes and books about nurturing the creative process, but ultimately, this is something unique to you. And as such, nurturing the intuitive side requires you to trust yourself as a writer.

This is well illustrated in this interview with George Saunders about The Semplica Girl Diaries. (Fantastic story, by the way. If you haven’t read it yet, there’s a link in the interview.) The story features suburban families who purchase immigrant women to hang by microlines in their heads as lawn decorations. This is a bizarre idea. There is no possible way to arrive at this idea logically. And Saunders didn’t—the image came out of a dream. Even the word ‘Semplica’ came from this dream. What Saunders did was trust in it, and continued intuit the story until the story worked.

You need to trust yourself as a writer. You need to trust in your intuition and follow the story.  Sometimes, you just need trust that there is a story even if you can’t see it yet.

Study the craft, learn to analyze your work, but the magic happens when you trust yourself.


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