I recently wrote a review of Someone to Talk To, Samantha M. White’s compelling memoir of her long process of building a life of serenity, love and happiness after falling into a pit despair when her young daughter died in a fatal car crash after a string of traumatic events. Since writing the review, Samantha and I have exchanged a number of emails about writing and memoir, and I’m delighted that she agreed to share the following thoughts as a guest post.
My rule for intuitive writing: While writing, don’t edit. Editing is the job of the brain; writing is the job of the heart. The heart knows no rules. Intuitive writing is what comes from the heart.
I believe the voice of my intuition has always been there, that we are probably all born with it. Parents, teachers, friends, and the media, in the process of “civilizing” us, overlay it with “rules” – lots of “don’ts” (”Don’t waste paper, don’t talk about others, don’t talk about sex,”) “always” (“Always stand up straight, always start a sentence with a noun phrase, always keep your prepositional phrases short,”) “never” (“Never wear white after Labor Day, never use an exclamation point at the end of a complete sentence”) and “shoulds” (A chapter should have a structure, contain action, a lady shouldn’t wear trousers in public,” etc.). I learned when I was still a teen-ager that cocktails were before dinner drinks, cordials were served after the meal. Red wine went with meat, white wines with chicken and fish. Those rules were as important as using the correct fork at the banquet table and sticking to the correct subjects in my speech and my writing. It was all part of the same very long list of Rights and Wrongs.
The rules were good to know, in order to not appear clumsy, gauche, or ignorant. But rules can pile up and eventually become so numerous that they hold the door to our intuition shut by their sheer weight. They become a barrier between us and our intuition, which is the free expression of our inner voice, our heart voice.
So accessing intuition, for me, was about judiciously discarding rules. In violation of what I had been taught, I wrote in incomplete sentences and about forbidden topics, and revealed my true self, weaknesses and strengths alike.
Does that suggest we would have better access to our intuition if we were not conscientiously “civilized” by our elders? Probably. But intuition without thought wouldn’t make for skill. I needed to know the rules AND to give myself permission to break them, first knowing, in every case, the reason why I was doing it, and measuring whether my action would cause anyone harm, and if it supported or violated my ethics and purpose.
So I guess my take on intuition is: know the rules of good writing, and then consciously put them aside and write from the heart. Write the initial drafts with confidence that they will never be seen by the reading public. Journal writing is especially valuable practice for accessing intuition, especially when we finally learn to trust that no one else is going to read it. Then we write as if we were talking to ourselves, telling ourselves only what is true and important, without regard for anyone else’s opinion of it. It helps open the door previously held shut by concerns of what others will think of us.
If writing for publication, go back afterward and check whether the writing conforms to good grammar, etc. Allow violations, but know the reason why. Always have an editor you can trust to both know the rules and respect your heart. The first step in writing a good paper, article, story, or book is to first write a “bad” one. It’s not really bad, of course, just probably in need of lots of good editing. Know the difference between editing and writing. Start with the writing.
Samantha M. WHite, MSW, LICSW, is a psychotherapist and life coach in private practice. She has earned college degrees in Pre-Med, Chemistry, Computer Science, and Social Work, achieving her most recent degree, the MSW, at the age of fifty-five. Her career has spanned the fields of medical research, education, health care administration, business and medical, hospice, and clinical social work, and she is a writer, educator, and public speaker. She lives in New England with her jazz musician husband, plays folk harp and percussion instruments, and enjoys kayaking on quiet rivers and ponds. Visit her website at http://www.samanthawhite.com/
Write Now: make a list of as many “rules” as you can think of that were uploaded into your head to govern your life. Then write a story about one of them, and how it has influenced you. Let intuition be your guide as you write, real and raw.