“…until it starts writing itself”—the mystery of creativity

“You never know what you’ll want to write until it starts writing itself in your head.”

"you never know what you'll write until it starts writing itself"Today’s wisdom comes from erstwhile sheep farmer and president of my alma mater, the elegant writer Jill Ker Conway. If you have not read her memoir The Road from Coorain, rocket it to the top of your reading list right this very minute. As a matter of fact, I think it’s time to buy the iBooks edition for myself and read it again.

“You never know what you’ll want to write until it starts writing itself…” This may sound like balderdash, especially to Type A types who never write a word until you’ve got an outline almost as detailed as a finished book. And it’s true, many successful writers make rigorous outlines. I’ll be blogging later this week about novelist Ken Follett, an inveterate outliner.

There’s nothing wrong with being prepared, but suppose the passage you’ve planned for Section 10 really wants to be the opening of the piece?

Leave some room for inspiration so when you get the idea, you can run with it. At least for a while. Unless you’re writing on a very tight deadline, what could it hurt?

“Writing itself” works in all genres

I heard writer MB Caschetta read from her short story collection a couple of days ago. She said that as she was writing one story she noticed that all of the female characters were named after her brothers. That’s what she said, they “were named”—not “I named them.” Even though she did—I mean, she wrote them into existence; who else would have named them?

Caschetta said she had no idea why the characters were named after her brothers,

“But I knew enough not to change it.”

She just kept writing and eventually she recognized what her subconscious had been doing.

Trust your instinct—whether you’re writing fiction like MB Caschetta or nonfiction like Jill Ker Conway. If it doesn’t work—so what else is new? Not everything we write works; that’s part of the drill. But if it does work, well, your work may be writing itself something magical. Something you wouldn’t have had if you stuck to the plan.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.


Also published on Medium.

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