Embracing Intuition

On Mondays, I write about things to love about writing and the writing life…please join me as I celebrate the Writer’s Journey! This week’s topic: intuition and how it can help your writing.

The Intuition Experiment

This month, my writing coach gave me a challenge: every problem or challenge I faced, I was to approach it first using my intuition, or “gut feeling.” Only then (if still needed) would I use my usual, analytical approach.


You would think that, as a writer, I would be extremely in touch with my intuitive side. Intuition and creativity both require an ability to access a part of the brain that is less linear and logical—but the truth is that I tend to approach even creativity in a fairly linear fashion. For example:

  • I plot out novels in advance
  • I create timelines
  • I use a formula to help me write the dreaded synopsis
  • I analyze books to see how they are structured, how the authors handle transitions, how they parcel out backstory

There’s nothing wrong with any of these techniques. In fact, I frequently blog here about analytical approaches to writing and revision. So why would I commit to experimenting with this new approach to writing and life—one that was admittedly unfamiliar and uncomfortable?

Because analytical, or “left brain”, thinking wasn’t always working. In this particular instance, I was trying to figure out how to create a better work/writing/life balance (always a challenge!) and felt like I was spinning in circles. I was also trying to write a synopsis for my novel, and the step-by-step approach yielded a list of boring plot points and did nothing to capture what I love about the story.

By approaching every problem and project with that analytical, left brain mindset, I was missing out on the creative leaps and intuitive understanding that my right brain could offer.

The Value of Intuition

I’m now wrapping up this month-long experiment. Has it been challenging? Yes. Has it been valuable? Absolutely. Over the past few weeks:

  1. I’ve gained an awareness of my default thinking style—that is, my tendency to approach problems, projects, and everything else in a linear, analytical, detail-oriented fashion.
  2. I’ve discovered that it takes a conscious act of will to approach problems using “right brain” thinking—for instance, by looking at the big picture, relying on intuition, trusting gut feelings.
  3. I’ve learned that often “left brain” thinking can only take me so far—and that, if I feel stuck, often shifting to a more “right brain” approach will get me moving again.
  4. I’ve learned that “trusting my intuition” and “going with my gut” can be extremely uncomfortable.
  5. I’ve also learned that it can be extremely effective.

For instance, remember that synopsis? I hate writing them, and this one was horrible.

“Try taking a more intuitive approach,” my writing coach suggested.

“Okay,” I said. “Um…how?”

“Well, what do you like most about your book?”

“I love…the relationship the main character develops with the orcas,” I told her. “I love the way she grows to love the ocean.” I went on, getting more and more excited as I told her about a few favorite character relationships and plot points.

She raised her eyebrows. [We Skype our sessions.] “When you started telling me about your book—just talking about it, the way you’d tell a friend—you became more and more animated. It didn’t sound boring at all.”

So…the next day, I picked up my pen and notebook and a printout of the dreaded synopsis and started writing about what I loved in the story. I tried to imagine that I was talking to a friend. I doodled in the margins, daydreamed—and wrote a kick-butt synopsis. One that reads more like jacket copy, the way it’s supposed to, rather than reading like a 5th grader’s obligatory book report.

I’d encourage you to identify your default approach to life and writing—right brain or left brain—and experiment with the opposite for a few weeks. I think the results will delight you!

What about you? Do you think of yourself as a right brain or left brain sort of person? How will you try the opposite thinking process (intuition or analytic thinking) this week? Please share in the comments—I love hearing from you!

The hidden price of "productivity" every writer needs to know - www.cherylreif.com

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


  1. says

    Think I do a bit of both. Writing in notebooks with a pen, I notice my stuf is far more creative than when I’m sat in front of a screen. Does that count?

    • says

      Absolutely! I’m the same way. If I’m stuck at the computer screen, a pen and notebook is a good way to get unstuck.

  2. says

    I am not sure that they are mutually exclusive. On the (in)famous Myers Briggs, I am an INTJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking & Judging. My analytical approach is still very intuitive. I have to work on the emoting parts, however…which I make up for because I have a keen sensual sense of the world…but it’s not the same as being emotional.

    Note: I’m currently retooling my old blogs as well as creating a “home central” for my writing life. LaraBritt.com is very much under construction.

    • says

      Me too! I’m practically off the scale for “I”, which I think it why blogging is such a great fit for me :). I get to meet all sorts of wonderful people, but without crowds or noise!

      Oooh, I really love the look of your website. I can’t wait to see what you do with it!

  3. says

    Cheryl, we have SO much in common. And I completely hear you on the synopsis! I always ask myself “and how did this plot point affect him/her” and that keeps my synopsis from reading like a boring term paper. It’s so easy to put in the “and then” but it’s vital to put in the feelings and emotions too.

    • says

      We do! I like your approach to the synopsis-writing. Remembering those darned emotions and feelings is essential, because that’s what makes us CARE about all the plot points.

  4. says

    I have started outlining more, but most of the really good stuff comes from bursts of inspiration that hit me while I’m taking a bath, exercising, walking, etc. And by good stuff, I mean the stuff that really deepens the story. Like in the outline, I might say “bad guy will stop her by throwing a porcupine at her head” and then the insight will fill in a really good reason of why a porcupine. Because without a good reason, that’s just silly.

    • says

      But now I want to know why the guy threw that porcupine :)

      I’m seriously considering adding a daily walk to my writing routine. Not a full-out exercise sort of walk, and not a social walk with my sweetheart (who also works from home), but a walk where I can let story questions simmer and gather inspiration. It’s such a great idea, but hard to force myself to make time for it.

      • says

        “But now I want to know why the guy threw that porcupine :)”

        See, it works, right? But to the analytical mind, it just sounds ludicrous.

  5. says

    I think I am more right brained than left – I was admiring all your amazing left brained abilities as I was reading LOL Although writing a synopsis of my memoir was incredibly hard!

  6. says

    As a seat-of-the-pants writer, in a rationalist society, I think it’s easier for me to see the need for bringing analytical thinking into play (during revision, for instance) than it would be for someone who is already analytical to see the need for intuitive thinking. I applaud your experiment! And I will have to bring analytical thinking to bear on my life in the next few weeks, so I’ll let you know how my experiment goes. :-)

    • says

      The especially cool part of this experiment is that every time I indulge in an hour of right brain creativity, with no goal in mind, it seems like afterward I am flooded with ideas. Two hours of writing exercises yesterday felt like an indulgence–but then I couldn’t sleep last night because of all the ideas swirling though my mind! And there’s no mood booster quite so wonderful as a flood tide of ideas :)

  7. says

    I am totally left-brained and was just talking o my husband the other day about how to be more right-brained. “I wish there were exercises you could do to stimulate right-brained thinking” said I! It appears maybe there are. I would love to hear more about this!

    • says

      Thank you! I was starting to think I was the only left-brain type out there :). Both types of thinking have their advantages–it’s definitely worthwhile to become fluent in our “nondominant” mode. Have to warn you, tho, it can feel uncomfortable!

  8. says

    I am very right brain, gut and instinct all the way. My challenge over the years has been to learn to learn to let analysis have a say in the outworking! I struggle with the analytical approach to my writing, though, and am glad of your challenge, as I too am reading all you left brainers with a little awe! Great post, Cheryl!

    • says

      So did you try it today? I want to know how it worked!

    • says

      Let me know how it goes! What “left brain” technique will you try?

  9. says

    I love these ideas!! I am not always so analytical, but sometimes have a hard time knowing what my intuition is telling me. Is it just, as your coach said, what makes you excited? (or, in contrast, dread/fear/anxiety would then be a negative intuitive message)? Any ideas? :)