Hi, Dave Fessenden here to talk to you writers out there for this Friday’s blog. One of the most painful experiences a writer can have is the feeling that your writing instincts have betrayed you. You encounter a writing problem, such as a nonfiction concept that seems to defy explanation, or a fictional character that is hard to describe. All your standard, tried-and-true writing techniques seem to fall flat, leaving you frustrated.
While it often helps to set this kind of problem aside for a few days, if you are on a deadline you may not have that luxury. Even worse is when you have set it aside, and still cannot make it work. At that point it is probably time to be counterintuitive.
If you think about it, you may discover there has been an idea, a solution, a direction to take that piece of writing which has been floating around in the back of your head all this time, but you have been unconsciously rejecting it. Maybe it’s an effective plot resolution, but your internal editor is telling you that it’s too trite or commonplace. Maybe it’s a list of details that you know are necessary, but your subconscious thinks it will interrupt the flow of the text. It might even be that you can solve the problem by deleting the entire scene or nonfiction section—yet you can’t bring yourself to let it go.
How do you become a counterintuitive writer and bypass the subconscious editor? One way is hit it head on. Ask yourself, “What is the worst possible solution to this writing problem?” And then try it! Sounds a little crazy, I know, but authorship is a crazy business. Once you actually break down and try that solution that was in the back of your mind, you will often discover a little twist to it that makes it work.
Going counter to what seems to be logical works in other creative endeavors besides writing. When Beethoven was working on his Fifth Symphony, he encountered a similar kind of counterintuitive problem. (We know this because he did several early drafts, which fortunately were preserved and give us a fabulous insight into his creative process; Leonard Bernstein took some of these early drafts and arranged them for his orchestra to show audiences the composing problems that Beethoven was wrestling with.)
One early ending of the symphony was all right, but it seemed too short, too abrupt. So Beethoven’s next draft of the ending was longer—actually, too long. It seemed to go on interminably! Finally, he tried something counterintuitive: he came up with an ending which was even shorter and more abrupt than the first one. That is the ending we are familiar with. He went against his instincts, and it worked perfectly.
David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant. He has degrees in journalism and theology, and over 30 years of experience in writing and editing. He has published several nonfiction books and written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, his first novel, reflects his love for history and for the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan-Doyle. His latest title is A Christian Writer’s Guide to the Book Proposal, the first in a series of ebooks for Sonfire Media.