Friday, December 07, 2007

The Right Stuff?

Take a look at these groups of words:

Word Group Choice Number One:
aptitude, faculty, feeling, funny feeling, gift, gut reaction, hang, hunch, idea, impulse, inclination, intuition, knack, know how, nose, predisposition, proclivity, savvy, sense, sentiment, sixth sense, talent, tendency, urge

Word Group Choice Number Two:
ability, accomplishment, acquirement, aptitude, aptness, attainment, attribute, bent, capability, capacity, endowment, faculty, flair, forte, genius, head, instinct, knack, leaning, nose, numen, power, propensity, set, specialty, turn

Word Group Choice Number Three:
adroitness, aptitude, aptness, bent, capability, capacity, cleverness, dexterity, facility, flair, forte, genius, gift, instinct, intelligence, knack, leaning, nose*, peculiarity, penchant, pistol, power, predilection, proclivity, propensity, property, quality, readiness, reason, right stuff, sense, skill, strength, talent, turn, wits

Which one of these three word groups describes you and your writing?

Now look at these definitions:

Choice One: a natural aptitude or gift

Choice Two: a capacity for achievement or success

Choice Three: competence in an activity or occupation because of one's skill, training, or other qualification

Does any one definition describe you as a writer? Now look back at the word groupings above and see if you can pick out which definition goes with which group of words. (Yes, there's a reason for this, don't worry.)

The other night I sat down to work on the wip after the kids went to bed like I always do. I'd thought about the scene I needed to write all day long. I knew the players, how it would start, where it would go and what would happen at the end. Usually, spending my day working through the scene makes it easier for me to write it in the evening because I don't waste a lot of time wondering, well, what should happen next? But this night, something strange happened.

The scene that started coming out of my fingers when I typed was not the scene I'd set out to write all day. It was in a different location, with different characters. In fact, the hero and heroine weren't even in this scene. It was a scene composed entirely of secondary characters, and as I was writing I had no clue what was happening, why or where it would go, but for some reason, the scene spilled out almost as quickly as if I'd spent the entire day pondering it.

Weird, right? I thought so, too.

When I was done, I read back over what I'd written. It wasn't bad, but I couldn't figure out why it was important or why it had to be written now. Instead of frustrating myself over it though, and because it was already so late, I closed the laptop and went to bed.

My brain had turned off by that point. I was exhausted from the day. So I pulled the covers up, snuggled down, closed my eyes and thought of nothing. And not more than twenty minutes later sat up and smacked my head when it all hit me like a mack truck barrelling at 90 mph toward me out of the dark. "Of course!"

Of course, my DH thought something bad had happened, and in his sleep-induced state bolted up with a, "What? What? What's wrong?" I'm sure he was envisioning a fire or screaming kids...or maybe just a scantily clad Heidi Klum from the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show - who knows how a guy's brain works. But at that moment, I didn't care. All I cared about was the AHA! moment I'd just had.

I'll admit, this isn't the first time this has happened to me - where I feel compelled to write a scene that doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything in my book and then later find out it's oh-so important. Almost like my subconscious knows where the story's going before my brain has time to catch up. I like to think it's some natural writers instinct coming out, leading me to the place I would have eventually gotten to on my own, but I'm not sure that's what it really is. Organic writing? An innate ability? How about good old fashioned magic?

I don't know. All I know is this scene - this one I wrote and couldn't see the importance of - is laying the groundwork for a character who is extremely important to the plot of the book. In a way I hadn't seen before. I knew he was an integral secondary character when I started writing, but I didn't know HOW much of an impact he would have until this scene was done. And maybe that's why this scene had to be written - to show me what I was missing.

I have friends who are intense plotters and I have friends who are complete pantsters. We all have different ways of getting from chapter one to the end. But no matter how you get there, there is an element of magic in the writing process that takes over when you least expect it. I've learned to stop fighting it. When these moments come, when these strange scenes pop out that make me scratch my head and want to hit the delete key, I wait and give my brain time to catch up. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, but if there's one thing I've learned about "my" process along the way, it's that I will never be wrong if I let the story go where it needs to go. And in this case, it hasn't changed the path of my synopsis, it's simply made it better.

So I'll give you a hint. The definitions above are from the words ability, instinct and talent, and each group of words describes one of those. See if you can pick out which is which. And then tell me...what kind of writer are you? One with a strong ability, a natural instinct, or a well-developed talent? Or maybe you are a combination of several?

Also...just so I don't think I'm a total freak...have any of you ever had something like this happen to you...where you write a scene with no idea how it fits only to realize later it was extremely important?


Alice Sharpe said...

Oh, insightful one, clever post.

I'm a combination of all three. At least I hope I am. Ability, instinct and talent -- I respond to words in the definitions of each plus I think a good writer (which I am struggling to become) needs a little of all these to become a better writer. What's instinct without the ability to utilize it, and what is ability without talent that transcends getting something done into making something happen?

I love your aha moment. I used to write books with no idea where I was going and things like this happened quite often. I always feel so very much invested as a writer when they do. I still have scenes that come from nowhere, but maybe not with the glory of yours.

I have learned, like you, to listen to my instincts. Lately, when I stop writing, I know it's because I've made a wrong move and if I am patient and think and talk it out, I will discover what I did wrong so I can go back and fix it and continue.

I love all those words!

Karen Duvall said...

Very cool, Eli! 8^) I think I'm a combo writer. I know I use instinct, I hope I'm talented, and my ability has come with practice (and patience).

As for the scene you wrote and didn't know it was important until much later, I can't say that's ever happened to me. I frequently write a scene that seemingly comes out of nowhere, but its relevance becomes apparent as I'm writing it down. I know I'm the type of writer who would probably balk at following a train of thought that didn't seem to go in the direction I thought the story was headed, so I applaud your courage to let it rip! That's great.

The aha moments are fun. Writing would be a total bore without them. 8^)

Genene said...

Awesome, Eli!

I don't recall an entire scene coming to me with no apparent reason. My aha moments in scenes are usually smaller ones. A small detail that makes the next scene or two totally plausible or provides a twist that's so logical I know I should have seen it before.

So what kind of writer am I? Most of the time, I seem to be a plodding plotter -- guess that's choice three. Perhaps because I haven't yet allowed my natural aptitude to take over as you did with this scene. I'm still developing the gift of writing I have been given.

I see glimpses of the magic in those small aha moments. I also see the magic at work in something I used with the last WIP; something mentioned by a multi-published author in an interview. She tells her muse she will be sitting down at 2:00 (or whatever time) to work on a particular scene and she expects that scene to flow smoothly on the page. I raised an eyebrow at that, but tried it when I did edits and got many of those small aha moments. Definitely cool.

Very interesting post!

Paty Jager said...

Great post!

Sorry I'm late checking in. We're in Burns. We signed papers on the Princeton property today and counted and moved irrigation pipes in the snow.

Anyway, I'm with Alice on this one. I believe I have some of all three. Before I knew what I was doing, people liked my stories so I would say I have some instinct, ability- I'm willing to learn to make my writing better, and talent same as instinct I think.

I've had some times when I've written scenes and wondered what the heck- then realized things had to happen that way. So even though I thought I knew what needed to happen my subconscious was ahead of me.

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty -- You're buying property in Princeton? Is there a move looming in your near future?

I know people who live in Princeton. Why are you moving irrigation pipes in the snow? Because cows get thirsty in the cold, too?

Danita Cahill said...

Yes. I've had scenes fly from my fingertips, had no idea where they came from and then realized how they tied everything together in a way nothing plotted and planned out could. Mine are often written in that dream state after just waking.

Ain't it grand when that happens?

Paty Jager said...


There isn't a move in the near future. My dh wants to semi retire in 5 years and this is where we will retire to. But we have to get the water going on the property next spring or we could lose our water rights, so we were moving pipes to count how many of what we had and what we will need.

So during the summer, I'll be spending 3-4 days every two weeks in Princeton changing water and writing!

Who do you know in Princeton? We met the two closest neighbors.