Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 17, 2017

How to Use a Writer’s Intuition to Strike Creative Gold

Colleen M. Story

I recently spent a good six months struggling to make progress on my next novel. The sole reason: I couldn’t hear what my writer’s intuition was telling me.

In an effort to solve the problem, I returned to craft, seeking solutions in plot, characterization, and timelines. All of my efforts produced a whole lot of nothing, so I put the story away for awhile. I took walks. I slept well. I tried other things. Nothing worked.

Finally, as luck would have it, my yearly vacation came up. I spent two weeks hiking, walking the beach, and soaking up the atmosphere of the great Northwest. When the vacation was over, I realized what my writer’s intuition really wanted: for me to get going on the non-fiction book I’d been planning for about a year.

I hesitated. As a full-time freelance writer, I didn’t have enough time to work on both books. I feared leaving my novel behind for awhile would kill the story, but I couldn’t deny my muse’s wish. When I returned from vacation, I dove into the non-fiction.

The clouds parted and the sun came out. I wrote one chapter after another at breakneck speed. Rather than feeling frustrated and discouraged, I started to enjoy writing again. I had my creative mojo back.

Wouldn’t you know it, after about a month of this, I was driving home one night and bam!—a new idea hit me for how I could approach my novel. I tried it out on the first chapter, and then compared the old to the new. The new was much better. It was going to work! As I wrapped up the first draft of the non-fiction book, I returned to the novel newly inspired and motivated.

Lesson learned—the writer’s intuition is always right.

What’s difficult are two things:

1) how to hear what it’s saying, and

2) how to trust it.

10 Things That Mute the Writer’s Intuitive Voice

No matter if you’re a plotter or pantser, you likely use your intuition for at least some things, like developing characters, plots, and settings, and when planning the next steps in your writing career.

In today’s hurried and noisy world, though, it can be hard to hear what your intuition is really telling you. The lines between what the mind thinks, the heart wants, and the intuition knows tend to blur, and it becomes more difficult to distinguish one from the other.

In my case, my mind wanted me to finish the novel by the end of the year, and my heart desperately wanted the story to turn out well. Meanwhile, my intuition was lingering on the periphery whispering about the non-fiction book. Looking back now, I realize I did hear it, but I hushed it by saying, “Not now, I have to finish this first!”

My tunnel vision prevented me from really listening to what my intuition had to say.

There are a number of other things that can drown out that quiet voice you have inside. Here are a few of them:

  1. Busyness: To-do lists often loom large in our thoughts, squeezing out that little space where intuition lives. You may have a vague sense that it’s trying to tell you something, but you rush on to the next thing and the next thing, never pausing long enough to listen.
  2. Distraction: Television, games, social media, Internet, books, yard work, home improvements, ski club, etc.—these can all be distractions that keep you from tuning into your intuitive wisdom.
  3. The heart’s desire: If you really want a certain outcome, that desire can drown out what the intuition is suggesting you should do instead.
  4. Strong beliefs: If you believe strongly that things should go a certain way, you may subconsciously ignore your intuition’s suggestions. Say you strongly believe you should get a traditional publisher for your book­. You may then ignore your intuition’s suggestion to self-publish, or vice versa.
  5. Other voices: Your intuition may be telling you something that goes against what you’ve been told by experts in the field, or by other people you respect. That can lead you to ignore your intuition, for surely these other folks know better.
  6. Logic: You may be used to approaching problems with logical and rational thought rather than by using your intuition. In some cases, your intuitive nudges may seem completely illogical, causing you to ignore them.
  7. Fear: You may sense that your intuition is guiding you in a direction that frightens you. It may be urging you to do more signings or to try public speaking, for instance. If these things make you nervous, you may ignore your intuition’s suggestions.
  8. Denial: You’ve muted the volume on your intuition because you don’t like what it’s saying. A good example: Your publisher wants another romance book, and you’re sick of writing romance. You try anyway, as you don’t want to lose the contract, but your heart’s not in it. Your intuition tries to tell you it’s time to do something else, but you turn down the volume because you don’t want to hear it.
  9. Stress: Stressful life events produce powerful emotions that easily drown out the intuitive voice. You may fall victim to knee-jerk reactions and poor decisions made when you’re not at your best.
  10. Inattention: The intuitive voice is quiet and subtle. If you don’t make a point to tune in carefully, it’s very easy to miss what it’s telling you. In fact, it takes practice to become better at hearing your intuitive voice.

The writer’s intuition is critical for guiding us forward in our work and our careers, but it’s extremely easy for that voice to get lost. We must practice listening more carefully, and trusting what we hear.

7 Ways to Better Hear What Your Intuitive Voice is Telling You

I could write a whole other book on this topic, but for now, here are a few suggestions. The main goal is to create space in your head, heart, and environment to allow the intuition room to come forward.

  1. Get away: We often think that an afternoon in the park will do the trick, but sometimes, that’s not enough. Americans are not good about taking their vacations, especially for more than a few days. But sometimes the only way you can thoroughly relax and hear what your muse wants you to do is to get away from it all for at least a week.
  2. Listen for repeated, random thoughts: The intuition speaks quietly, but regularly. If you don’t listen the first few times, it will keep nudging you. Listen for messages that you continue to hear whispered over and over again. These thoughts often have a “pop up” character to them—they pop up in your head when you’re thinking about something else.
  3. Let go: Other thoughts and emotions jam up the communication lines between your intuition and your ears. If you’re attached to one desired outcome, you’ll have a hard time hearing what your intuition is saying. Judgment also stops intuition in its tracks. Try to spend some time during a walk or meditation period where you allow yourself to let go of all expectations, hoped-for outcomes, desires, judgments, etc., and just listen to what your intuition knows. Practice by simply playing the game—for 30 minutes, let go of everything you think your story or your writing career should be, and wait for your intuition to tell you what should come next.
  4. Listen to your body: The body is a great source of information unless you’re tired, achy, stressed, bloated, or whatever. Take some time to eat good foods, rest, exercise, and get yourself into better shape. When your body starts feeling better, you may notice intuitive nudges through gut feelings, waves of emotion, tingling on your skin, or a sense of excitement. When these physical symptoms occur, take a moment to stop and ask yourself what they are telling you.
  5. Invite your intuition in for a chat: This method can be extremely effective if you like using your imagination. Sit quietly and invite your intuition to come in for a chat. Imagine a room where you sit across from each other. Feel free to ask questions to get the conversation started, then listen to what your intuition says. You can also do this in writing. Write your question down, take a moment to listen, and then imagine yourself transcribing what your intuition says in answer.
  6. Drive: A car can be a very effective place to isolate yourself. Take a Sunday afternoon and go for a drive. Keep it quiet inside—no music or audiobooks—and head out into the country. Allow your thoughts to go where they will. After awhile, you may hear your intuition whispering in your ear.
  7. Journal: If you use your journal simply to record the events and thoughts of the day, you’re likely to stay in your head without reaching the realm of the intuition. If you free write while allowing your thoughts to go where they will, however, you may stumble upon some unique findings. This type of journaling can be really effective, because it provides a record of your intuitive nudges, which you can refer to at a later date. This can also help you learn to trust your intuition.

Can I Trust My Intuition?

I mentioned that listening to your intuition is not enough—you have to be able to trust it. That’s not always easy. Messages from the intuitive voice are often fuzzy, garbled, or present only in feelings and sensed words rather than in clear, indisputable directions. That makes it harder to trust what we’re hearing or sensing. We have to take a leap of faith.

To get better at it, practice listening, and when you hear a message, take a small step in the direction it leads you. Most of the time, you’ll find that the action feels right. If you’re concerned, take baby steps forward and see what happens. Keep a journal of your results, as it will provide you with evidence when you need it.

It’s not always easy and it’s not always clear. I’ve been at it for years and still stumble, as evidenced by my story at the beginning of this post. Writers need that little voice, though, both for their work and their careers, so it’s certainly worth the time and effort.

As the great poet William Butler Yeats said:

"People who lean on logic and philosophy and rational exposition end by starving the best part of the mind."

How do you work with your writer's intuitive voice? How have you learned to trust it?

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About Colleen

Colleen M. Story is a novelist, health and wellness writer, and motivational speaker specializing in creativity, productivity, and personal wellness. Her literary novel, Loreena’s Gift, has been recognized with five literary awards, including first place in the Idaho Author Awards, solo medalist in the New Apple Book Awards, and Foreword Indie Awards finalist. She’s authored thousands of articles for a variety of health-centered publications, and ghostwritten books for clients in the health and wellness industry. As a speaker, she enjoys helping writers and other creative artists break through mental barriers and tap into their unique creative powers. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers and other creatives. Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter.

24 comments on “How to Use a Writer’s Intuition to Strike Creative Gold”

  1. Thank you, Colleen. Your list of things that mute intuition is on point for me. As a goal-oriented person with years in get-it-done business, I'm cued up to fall victim to all these traps. Since I've turned from business to creative writing, I've had to learn to listen to what my gut/intuition is telling me. It's a lesson I learn again and again.

  2. Wow. I needed this post right now, Colleen. I'm still dealing with fear and insecurity about writing lately. In short, I've been torn between starting Draft #4 of a manuscript that (thanks to insights from beta-readers) needs serious plot and worldbuilding revisions but not having a clear vision of how to make everything work logically, and starting a brand new writing project where I can apply what I've learned from the get-go but am essentially "starting over again." And even though I *think* I know what direction I want to take (the new project), I'm not sure whether I'm choosing this option out of fear or if it's truly the right path forward for me. In other words, I'm having a very hard time trusting my writer's intuition... and I need to heal that relationship with myself. And I've been meaning to journal for a while... so maybe that might help me get back in touch with it.

    Thank you for writing this post. 🙂

    1. Wow, that does sound like a tough one, Sara. And the fear will cloud the intuitive voice. Good luck clearing the noise so you can hear the best way forward.

  3. Loved this post, Colleen. I've learned to trust my intuition and the feeling is so freeing. So many times I've fought against it, trying to follow what I've been told is right, but sometimes the rebel steps up, and you just have to go with your gut. Thanks for the thoughts.

  4. Brilliant and oh so helpful post, Colleen! And I FINALLY just went and downloaded your book! Wow, lots of contest wins! Can't wait to get started on it!

  5. I'm wrestling with a plot now that has me stumped. It's a suspense and I've reworked the plot, trying to have the murderer be any one of five main characters and I just can't decide on "who done it." I think I need a vacation!

  6. I'm good at listening to my intuition--when it screams at me. Thanks for reminding me of all the ways to let it be heard without that megaphone!

  7. I have spent the entire afternoon revising the first two pages of my book. Something was pushing me to add some zip. I felt uneasy about the changes until I read your post. Thanks for your intuition to write the post.

  8. This was exactly what I needed to hear today. After writing a 96,000-word manuscript for what I thought would be my first novel, a week ago I concluded that I needed to start over. I'm at a loss now as I try to figure out whether to start over with the same story or go in another direction. Your words have helped me to stop panicking. The answer will come, if I just give it a little time. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. So happy to hear that, Janet. I know what you're saying—it IS frightening when you're just not sure and you can't hear the intuitive voice. I hope some of these tips help bring yours within hearing range. :O)

  9. So often I've had this happen. Whenever I stall when writing a book it's usually because something isn't right with the storyline, plot etc. Usually I ask the question just before I go to sleep and my subconscious mind is much better a at figuring these things out than I am ... in the morning voila the answer is there as plain as day.
    Is this intuition? I guess it is. Thanks for the post, it was enlightening.

    1. Glad you mentioned that, Shirley. I've had that happen, too—that space between sleep and full awake is ripe with creative ideas. It's one of the reasons I get really grouchy if someone wakes me up suddenly! (ha) Glad you enjoyed the post. :O)

  10. Wonderful! I like a long bath with the jets on to help coax intuition to the surface. The white noise of the water flowing seem to put me in a "listening trance."

    Recently, my critique group offered feedback, suggesting I restructure the story. I could see their point and why they thought as they did. But on this point, after days of sitting with and thinking about their input, I decided to leave the structure as is. I'm often of the opinion others offer feedback for a reason. And though a restructure would be a lot of work, I'd do it in service to the story. But, in the end it didn't feel right. Of course, new information could change that, but for now I'm holding steady. Thank you for the post- and the invaluable reminder to listen with more than our ears.

  11. This is brilliance, Colleen! And this is the one that absolutely works for me: "Listen for repeated, random thoughts." SO true. That intuitive voice is soft, but persistent. I learned long ago that when writing fiction, if something keeps gently nagging at me, it's the right thing. Love this, and so glad you're hearing your intuition!

    1. Thanks, Susan! It's always amazing to me how well I can ignore that voice, though. And I know better! :O)

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