Meanwhile, the Apartment Complex story is slowly — finally — taking shape. I’m trying not to give away too much, for fear that it’ll blow up in my face once more, but I’m feeling a little more hopeful this time.
Instinct is something that doesn’t get talked about when we talk about writing, except maybe in a clinical sense. We talk about rules that we follow and rules we break. We talk about inspiration. We talk about styles, processes, all kinds of things. But we don’t always hear about the instinct of a writer.
For me, it’s a very large part of how I create a story, to know if it feels right to me. It’s more than just looking at a rough, just-written passage and feeling the frustration of how horrible it reads. It’s more than keeping to the notes of future plot points written on my index cards (or in my head). It’s more than knowing if I’m following the rules, mine or others’.
Regarding the Apartment Complex story, my continued frustration with the previous versions was that instinct kept telling me: this is not the way the story is supposed to go. It was telling me: this is not the story you want to tell. The prose was weak and the plot was forced, sure. But instinct kept telling me I was going in the wrong direction.
With many of my projects, it’s instinct that tells me whether a possible plot point is worth it or just filler. This is how I edit my own work, to some degree. During the Great Trilogy Revision, I relied on instinct almost exclusively; I knew the story inside and out, so I could tell what was weak and need to be excised. There are numerous scenes — many of them in The Balance of Light — that were cut for precisely this reason. It just didn’t feel right to me. In the context of the rest of the story, if it felt like a weak point, or a useless ramble, out it went. But I was also putting the trilogy in the context of an extremely long single novel; I had to rely on instinct that what I was editing and revising in Book 3 connected on a deeper level to the other two books, and the entire story as a whole.
It’s not a magical thing, instinct. But it’s something I’ve relied upon quite a bit over the years with my writing. I connect myself to my writing on a level where I try to understand its spirit, if that makes sense. Or perhaps it’s like music, my other obsession. I understand the melody and where it’s going, anticipating its flourishes and quietness, connecting with its tempo and its ambiance. And I try to sculpt the story into what I hear within me, waiting to come out.
It definitely took me years to learn this, but it’s never let me down once I did.