5 Reasons Why Your Writer’s Intuition is Failing You

Filed in Finding & Following Your Voice by on February 12, 2018 6 Comments • views: 578

What’s your first reaction when you run into a writing problem?

Do you call up a writing friend? Turn to a favorite craft book? Send your pages off to a book doctor? Bang your head against the wall and try again?

You may have tried these methods and more, when the real answer often lies within your own intuition. You’ll probably get around to consulting it eventually, but what if you could save time and get to it right when you need it?

Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done. Though your intuition may be readily available to stop you from getting into an elevator with a potentially dangerous person or taking a job that just doesn’t feel right, it can often be completely incommunicado when it comes to helping you overcome writer’s block or solve some other writing-related problem.

Here’s why that happens, and what you can do to access that inner wisdom next time you need it.

Photo courtesy Michal Lomza via Unsplash.com

What is a Writer’s Intuition?

First of all, let’s get clear on what we’re talking about when we say “intuition.” The word can mean different things to different people, and it can also take on different shades of meaning in different situations. For the purpose of this article, we’ll define it as your “writerly instincts,” that sense of inner knowing that you have about your creative work.

Your intuition is probably what alerted you to the fact that you had a writing problem to begin with. Maybe you were going along just fine and then you stalled, because your instincts were telling you something was skewed with the plot, or that your hero was acting out of character, or that your pacing was off.

Or maybe you just didn’t know what to write next, but that could be your intuition talking to you, too, alerting you in a roundabout way to an issue you need to solve before you waste too much time going the wrong direction.

It makes sense, then, that if your instincts tell you there’s a problem, your instincts will provide the solution. But often, they need a little coaxing before they’ll do that.

5 Reasons Why You Can’t Hear What Your Writer’s Intuition is Saying

Unfortunately, in today’s noisy, distracted world, it’s become increasingly more difficult to access one’s intuition—and it wasn’t always easy in the first place. Though it may flare up to protect you from danger—it’s been doing that for thousands of years—it can be much more elusive when you need it to help you make an important decision, or get you out of a creative tight spot.

There are five key reasons for that.

1. Intuition comes from the instinctual mind.

When we examine how humans think, we see two systems: the logical, analytical mind, and the instinctual, more sub-conscious mind. When you think carefully about a decision and balance the pros and cons, that’s your logical mind at work. When you get a gut feeling and use that to make your decision, that’s your unconscious or instinctual mind at work.

Studies have shown that often our instinctual brains know the answer long before we even realize it in our conscious brains. In one study, for example, participants playing a card game where one of the decks was rigged against their success. The participants needed about 50 cards before they realized what was going on, and about 80 cards before they could explain the difference between the two decks.

But machines measuring their autonomic responses (sweating, heart rate) showed the participants were subconsciously aware of a problem around the 10th card, and after that, they were more likely to favor the safer deck without being aware of the reasons for their actions.

This “being unaware” facet of intuition means that its answers are not always readily available to the conscious mind. So even if we know something’s up, it can be difficult to determine exactly what, or how to fix it.

2. Emotions drown out the intuitive voice.

Often when writers come up against a problem in their work, it’s a big deal. We feel best when the words are flowing, so if they stop, we tend to become disturbed. Frustration, worry, stress, anxiety, self-doubt, discouragement, and other similar emotions are common. They can also be the reason why you can’t seem to find the solution.

Negative emotions take the mind hostage, leaving no room for intuition to hang around. It’s like they spread out on the entire bench leaving no room for your instincts to sit down and chat with you. In a very interesting 2016 study, researchers reported that when patients are depressed, they seem unable to access their intuitive sense. They added that this loss could help explain why depressed individuals have a hard time making decisions.

The scientists went on to say that relying on intuitive hunches is “especially useful when the problem at hand is complex in nature,” and that in general, people are more satisfied with decisions based on gut feelings. They agreed that a number of other scientific studies have shown that positive mood is more conducive to intuitive insights, while negative mood states inhibit the mental processes required to produce those intuitive insights.

In fact, negative mood states “foster cognitive analytic reasoning which makes individuals attend to few details rather than the bigger picture.” In other words, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and when you’re dealing with a novel or other significant work of writing, that can be deadly, indeed.

In a 2003 study, researchers reported that while a positive mood helped improve intuitive judgments, a negative mood did just the opposite. Indeed, intuition is not an emotion—it’s a quiet inner wisdom that comes from our instincts and our experiences combined. If we’re wrapped up in feeling frustrated or discouraged, our systems will be too overloaded to receive intuition’s subtle messages.

3. Distractions lead us away from intuition.

If you’re regularly distracted by your cell phone, computer, social media feeds, television, and the like, your mind is going to be too busy dealing with all of that to access your intuition. You may still feel an underlying discomfort about what’s going on with your story, but that’s as far as you’ll get while you’re perusing your Twitter feed.

“Personal experience has shown me how overwhelming and inundating outside noise and constant stimulation/information coming in from all different directions can be,” says Stephanie Marino, certified holistic health counselor and founder of Real Food Pure Love. “When I get swept up and lost in all of the stimuli—text messages, email, phone calls, social media, ebooks, online courses, television, news, etc…. I end up in a “should-state,” feeling like I should be capturing it all, processing everything; and when I’m not able to do so (because who can?!), I feel like I’ve missed something…. This imbalance of over-engagement in stimulation and lack of connection to the natural world and intuition, results in my sense of Self feeling drowned out and muffled.”

The more you rely on input and entertainment from outside of yourself, the less you’ll be able to hear what your writerly instincts are trying to tell you.

4. Intuition requires quiet, uninterrupted time.

Talk to most writers today and they’ll tell you they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. (Check out Overwhelmed Writer Rescue for help with that.) We’re writing, editing, blogging, marketing, and more, usually in addition to managing a family and/or day job, and it seems there just isn’t time for one more thing.

A busy approach to the day takes you further away from your intuitive knowing. That’s because you need your logical, analytical mind to get all those things done on your to-do list, which leaves you no time to tune into your intuitive voice.

“Before you can pay attention to your intuition,” says Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, “you first have to be able to hear it amid the cacophony of your busy life. You have to slow down and listen, which often requires solitude.”

5. You’re out of practice.

Many of us are so busy with everything that we’re doing that we’re simply out of practice when it comes to accessing our writer’s intuition. We’re not regularly getting quiet, turning off the distractions, and doing what we need to do to sink deeper into the unconscious mind where the muse dwells.

Tuning into what she has to say is a skill much like any other related to writing, and the more we practice, the better we become at not only hearing the messages, but acting on them.

How to Access Your Intuition in One Day

There are other things as well that can interfere with your intuition, including poor health, stress, illness, and more, which means that we’re often facing an uphill battle when it comes to trying to find instinctual solutions to writing problems.

There are a lot of things you can do, and it would take another post to go through them all, but for now, I suggest you try a two-pronged approach:

  1. Go do something relaxing and mildly active that doesn’t require you to think much, and
  2. present your intuitive mind with a question.

So maybe you go take a walk or a drive, go swimming, take a bike ride, amble through the mall, or some other activity that’s fairly mindless and moderately active. It helps to a) do something that gets you outside if possible, and b) gets your body moving in a relaxed manner, though taking a drive or even a nice warm bath may do the trick. The important thing is that it gives you the chance to stop “thinking and doing” so much.

Then, at the start of your activity, present yourself with a question. Make the question as reflective of your current writing issue as you can. In other words, you don’t want to ask a question that’s too open-ended, like, “What’s wrong with my story?” Instead, think back to where you stopped writing, and what was happening in your story at that point, and get specific.

What is my heroine trying to tell me? or What’s missing in my plot right now? are questions that could work for you. Other examples include the following:

  • What is the theme of my story? What am I trying to say with it?
  • Is it my setting or my plot that is the problem right now?
  • Which character is causing problems in my story?

You get the drift. If you can’t zero in on questions like this, ask yourself something else, like Where do I need to turn to find a solution to this problem? Your intuition should tell you where to go next for more information.

If this doesn’t work the first day, it’s probably because of one of the four reasons above. Maybe you are still feeling too emotional about the writing issue, or you’re simply too tired to make creative connections. Take the same approach the next day, and the day after that until your answer appears.

Taking time every day to connect with your intuition is a good idea, anyway, and something that will benefit your creative process the more you stick with it. Good luck!

How do you use your intuition to solve writing problems?

Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., & Damasio, A. R. (1997). Deciding Advantageously Before Knowing the Advantageous Strategy. Science, 275(5304), 1293-1295. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9036851

Bolte, A. I., Goschke, T., & Kuhl, J. (2003). Emotion and intuition. Psychol Sci., 14(5), 416-21. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12930470

Bradberry, T. (2018, January 2). Seven things deeply intuitive people do differently. Retrieved from https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/seven-things-deeply-intuition-people-do-differently

Marino, S. (2017, July 18). 6 Ways to Cultivate Trust in Your Intuition & Why it’s so Essential – Real Food Pure Love. Retrieved from http://realfoodpurelove.com/6-ways-to-cultivate-trust-in-your-intuition-why-its-so-essential/

Remmers, C., & Michalak, J. (2016). Losing Gut Feelings? Intuition in Depression. Frontiers in Psychology, 07. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4993771/

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Comments (6)

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  1. Jen Storer says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Intuition is the key to the entire treasure trove. Thanks for this article!

  2. Karen Jones says:

    Such a fabulous article! Just what I needed.

  3. Pat Stoltey says:

    I love that question, “What is my heroine [or character] trying to tell me?” For me, that’s often where the answer can be found.

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