I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Feeling the scene (writing with my head vs writing with my heart)

(Source)
We've all heard the advice given to writers: write every day. For some time now I've taken that advice to heart (well, blogging is writing too *grins*), and have tried to write as often as I can. But after working closely with my critique partners to turn my (very rough) first draft into something a little closer to submission-ready material, I've come to realize something.

I write in two different ways.

Writing with my head: I know what needs to be done, I know that this scene needs to play out this way, contain these characters, show that scenery. And I write in a way that will accomplish this. However, my writing is slow and labored, and is accompanied with much staring out the window, quick (or not so quick) checks of my email, food breaks, and a general willingness to be distracted by anything and everything that comes my way. I still manage to reach my writing targets when I write like this, but it takes so much longer, and there's always the nagging feeling that I'm missing something. A feeling that becomes readily apparent when I read back through my writing and have a "did I really write this?" moment.

Writing with my heart: Other times, something clicks and I get in the zone, so to speak. My fingers fly over the keyboard, my brain races ahead of me, planning and weaving together all the interlocking strands of writerly wisdom I've absorbed since I began writing and learning about writing (two separate things, for me). I feel the scene, for lack of a better way to describe it. I'm there in the room with the characters, seeing what they see, smelling what they smell, hearing what they hear. And somehow (and this is the magical part) it comes across on paper. When I have one of these "writing with my heart" moments, I can churn out whole scenes one after the other, scenes that are filled with depth and emotion and feeling and showing not telling, and everything else they need to contain. Sure, my writing still needs revision, but it usually requires far less than when I simply write with my head.

And what I find the most amazing (and my CP will be nodding because we had this discussion the other day) is that she can tell whether I wrote a scene with my head or with my heart. It's there on paper, somehow, in black and white. And I'm willing to bet I could give her my entire manuscript and she could point out, with pretty amazing accuracy, exactly which writing phase I was in when I wrote a particular scene.

Of course, I can't turn on these "writing with my heart" moments at will (which really sucks!). Instead, I just keep writing in my plodding fashion, all the while hoping that lightning will zap through my pen (um, keyboard), and I'll start churning out writerly magic one more time. Cause that's when my writing really comes alive. And as a writer, that's when I most come alive as well.

How about you: sound familiar? Have you noticed any difference in how you write from one week/day/hour to the next? Any tips on how you feel the scene, and capture it on paper?

61 comments:

Becca C. said...

This is very familiar. In the manuscript I'm currently revising, there are two POV characters and one of them is more tightly plotted and requires more "writing from the head." The other was written a lot more "from the heart," and that POV has barely required any revisions at all. It doesn't make either POV better, just very, very different - which I suppose is good, it makes it believable that they're two different people!

Lindz said...

I can definitely relate to this post. As I go through and read my (very) rough draft I too can recognize the scenes I felt versus the scenes I rationalized.

When I wrote the first incarnation of my story back of 04', I wrote it in a month. Definitely a "heartfelt" endeavor- I had an idea, but it was very shaky. I've finished it again, but found that I need to infuse it with a lil' more heart. The way I do this is by silencing everything, closing my eyes, and picturing myself there right in the scene with my characters. Generally, then, I can tap into the "heart" writing a bit more.

Belle Wong said...

When I write in my head, I do literally just do that - I write in my head. I don't outline, but I've come to realize that a method that works well for me is to write scenes in my head first (usually as I'm falling asleep or on the treadmill or in the shower!), and then some time later, when I can't stand holding it all in my head anymore, I sit down at my desk and write it all out. It flows so much more easily when I do this, and the funny thing is, I usually end my writing session by writing down scenes that I didn't write in my head first, and it's like they've caught the sense of flow from the first set of scenes, and they come easily too!

When I don't do this, it's like pulling teeth. But in terms of the end result, it's the opposite with me. I normally don't see much difference in the actual writing, once it's on paper, regardless of whether it flowed or felt like pulling teeth.

Luke Raftl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke Raftl said...

I'm a big believer in the 'by the heart' method, as we all are! Yet I know that it is impossible to write a complete novel like this unless you are Kerouac and have spent the last three weeks hopped up on benzedrine to achieve your goal.

So when I write with my head, or any time I write and I *know* it's laboured and forced, I leave a note or a mark on the page. Later, when I am revising or just merely rereading what I have written I will come to these marks and occasionally, with some time between the moment I wrote it and now, I see the scene in a completely new light and my heart takes over and never looks back.

It doesn't happen all the time, but sometimes those 'by the head' moments are important to get down, because they can be the framework for more seat-of-your-pants brilliance down the track!

Loribeth said...

I'm the same way. I can always tell when I wrote with my head rather than with my heart... (When I write with my head, there are fewer typos and fewer grammatical errors!) It's been a long time since I've written with my heart, other than in my blog. I'm looking forward to when I can write that way again on my manuscripts.

Misha said...

Sounds very familiar.

Except that I can almost not write if my heart isn't engaged. >_<

Patsy said...

The two ways of writing sound very familiar - sometimes the whole story seems to gush out, other times I've got to force every word. By the time I've done a quick edit to sort out the typos etc (there are far more with the 'easy' stories) I don't think anyone can tell the difference. It certainlt doesn't make any difference to getting the piece accepted - or not.

Tessa Quin said...

I know what you mean, though for me, the first draft is always with my heart so I usually write the it very quickly. The revision process is slooooow because that's all-head with some-heart. The good thing is, though, that my writing becomes so much better with practice, so there's this automatic "head" in my "heart" writing ;)

I'm currently writing something I'm going to use a different pen name for - because it's SO not YA/MG, and it's 100% heart every time I hit the keyboard. But I know that I'll have to edit out a lot of things and add in other things, and although I think I won't mind it for this story (I'm head over heels for this one), revising the very short 21,000 worded Icelandic MG took me forever and I've still not started rewriting BoB (has been on hiatus for about six months :/ ).

Laura Pauling said...

There are some scenes that definitely flow better and need less work and often times it's not my mood but that I have a better idea of what's going to happen before I write. And it's going to be a fun scene. That's key in how I get into it or not.

Zan Marie said...

Plodding along by head makes for a monster headache for me. I might as well put the pen down and just do something else. Unfortunately, I can't just depress the clutch and shift into heart writing at will. When I try to write everyday, it's easier. Sigh. Such a hard job. People who don't write don't understand. Do you wnat a $1 for everytime you've been asked, "Aren't you finished with that novel YET?" ; )

Ben Langhinrchs said...

If anybody ever develops a surefire way to turn on that "by the heart" mode, he or she will be rich. Perhaps there is actually a value to both modes, but I'd be happy to have the "by the heart" mode more often.

Incidentally, I find exactly the same thing with writing software. For what it's worth.

Margo Benson said...

I learned a lot about this when taking part in last year's NaNoWriMo. With my head I plotted an outline and approxiamate chapter lengths, then let my heart run free as the word count was important and I could just boff on (and on...!) I was surprised at times when reading it back that it wasn't utter jibberish. I try to work like that now. Good post.

Kari Marie said...

This is very true. I can read back on some scenes and think...this is missing something. Most of the time it's becuase I wasn't connecting to the characters and writing with my head. THe challenge is to go back and find something that moves me to inject a little heart.
Great post!

kmullican said...

I definitely go through this. If I'm not "feeling" it, I choose to go back and read/edit what I've written. I look for typos and things Word doesn't catch. Anything I write when I can't get into it is absolute manure!

Jen Daiker said...

Months pass and my writing style changes. The weather has a lot to do with how I feel and how I write. It's funny to watch it evolve!

BTW are you still allowing for crusaders? I'm very behind and afraid I missed the awesome so just wanted to check in and see what was happening and if there was still room to join!

Jess said...

I LOVE those "writing with the heart" moments--it's like your manuscript and characters take over, and it's just...easy and genuine. Wish I could learn how to summon them more frequently!

Rogue Mutt said...

I outline and edit with my head but do the actual writing by feel.

Faith said...

I think that often I start to overthink the 'heart' moments, pushing them into 'head' moments, and otherwise spoiling what could have been a great scene. It's a perfectionist tendency I'm working hard to overcome...

Carol Riggs said...

This is a good point to note! It's interesting that your CPs can tell in which mode you've written. Usually I can muster up the heart/more flowing stuff, amazingly enough, when I want to write a really crucial scene. I force my inner editor off, and just spill words out onto the page, telling myself I can clean it up later. Just killing the editor seems to help! I highlight words in red or do a slash (pretty/lovely) for words I'm choosing between, and just plow onward.

But there ARE scenes that are harder to write...they drag on and on and I check my email every 10 minutes. LOL

C. N. Nevets said...

I smoosh my heart through the strainer of my brain and that tends to keep things on an even keel most days.

(Is that a mixed metaphor? Or just gross?)

Marieke said...

Yes, yes, yes. (Yes.)

I'm a firm believer in writing with your heart, as you know. Perhaps that's why I like plotting too - I get to sort everything out, do all the head-y stuff, and after sorting through out the character descriptions, major plot lines, significant details... I can not only write but live and breathe the story. Within those boundaries, I can write with my heart. :-)

Alyssa Fox said...

It sounded very familiar to me too.

Mflick1 said...

It sounds super familiar. I dont think you capture writing from your heart. I think it comes from a writer and you can't mimic it. I can tell when something was from heart. I feel the emotion come off of it.

Devin Bond said...

It's definitely the same for me. I had a heart moment earlier this week, now it's gone. Back to the head :/ Sigh~

Sheila said...

Your blog is becoming my favorite blog to read. This has made me think a lot about my writing, I hate having ideas come when I am falling asleep. if I don't get up and write them down they fade away by morning. I would love to always write straight from my heart. I usually get nowhere forcing a scene from my head. I have to take a break before the juices start flowing again.
~~Sheila (http://www.whynotbecauseisaidso.blogspot.com)

The Red Angel said...

Hi Rach, thanks for the comment on my blog! I don't think anybody really enjoys public speaking besides comedians, actors, and perhaps the president! :P

Great blog post by the way. I know what you mean...sometimes we try to be so perfect with our work that we forget to listen to what we really want to write in our hearts, however cheesy this sounds.

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Alleged Author said...

I tend to write with my head a lot of the time because I get distracted easily. Sometimes when I have a great idea, I write with my heart for the first 10,000 words or so. Then it's back to my head. Le sigh! I'm following you now, too! Hurrah!

Abby Minard said...

I know what you mean. Some days I got it, some days I don't. I think that's why revising and editing is so hard. I'm using my head to go over little details, change the typos, analyze a scene and it's kinda boring. So it takes me a little longer at that than it does when I'm pounding out a scene for the first time.

Julie Musil said...

I totally know what you mean. And you know what? I believe one leads to the other. I think the from the heart moments appear because you've worked hard even through the from the head moments. At least that's the way it is with me. If I waited for the heart moments, I'd have an unfinished manuscript. At least now I can smooth out the head moments, and add heart!

Donea Lee said...

I think I've had more head-writing than heart-writing lately. But, yes - I can tell. I love "the zone", where I'm totally excited to get my words down and everything seems to come so easily and it makes sense and it's golden and "woo hoo!" If I could find a way to tap into that ALL the time...well. Here's hoping we all have plenty of heart-writing moments soon and often! :)

Michelle said...

Great post ... and great comments.
such a hard one to get good at

T.D. McFrost said...

500th follower!

Very fantastic post. I most definitely write with my heart. That's where the idea and characters came from, and where they continue to runneth over.

Hope to see more amazing posts in the future.

Adina West said...

This is definitely familiar - and I think I'm a little bit like Julie in her comment above.

I usually start any writing session on a given day with my 'head' but the heart takes over (eventually) and the magic happens.

That's a good day though. ;-)

Adina West said...

And WOW!!! 500 followers! You go girl.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Writing with my heart is the greatest joy in the craft. Getting into that zone can be effortless, but more than often it's accomplished through a diligent daily writing practice. Man, I hope I get there today!

Rachael Harrie said...

Thanks so much for all your comments. This is one of those topics that's near and dear to my heart, and I've loved hearing your thoughts and your descriptions of your writing process :)

Hugs,

Rach

PS - one of these days I'll learn how to bottle "writing from your heart", so I can take a whiff whenever I need it :)

Zan Marie said...

Be sure to post the steps and teach us all how to bottle that vintage. ; )

Hart Johnson said...

I definitely have those flows and the forced in-betweens. If it helps at all, a lot of that in-between will have some inspired moments in the rewrite--something will come to me to weave through and more and more of the total content will end up with that heart in it.

Tanya Reimer said...

Oh yeah, I do write everyday. EVERYDAY. But! I count; bloggling, editing, revising, hunting for an agent, research, and the actual writing itself. It's cheating, but all those things need to get done if I'm ever to get published and my writing is much better when I feel it, my editing much quicker when I'm in that mood.

Bottom line. Write everyday, but cheat enough to make it fun, it'll show, and in the end, it saves time.

L.A. Colvin said...

Yep. It's the difference between your "You" writing and your "muse" writing. I have the problem of my muse getting bored half way through a scene and the tone totally changes to boring and very methodical instead of flowing like it should. Good thing I bought stock in red pens.

tangynt said...

I try not to let either my head or my heart run away with the story, because it can be a disaster on either end of the spectrum. It's so weird trying to give people advice on how to "get into it". At least for me, because my mind works radically different than others. Of course we're all that way, but what I use to find a zone or how I get into a scene I can't really describe. It just sort of happens, while I'm driving, while I'm making mochas at my job--or rather while I USED to make mochas at my OLD job, thanks Borders--or while I'm listening to music while doing the dishes. Different things trigger the urge and the scene usually takes off on its own while my heart and my head scramble to keep up.

L'Aussie said...

Great post Rach. I can relate. I'm not a fan of forcing the writing process, although if I begin writing withuot inspiration it often follows and I move into 'The Zone.' No matter which way we go, we have to have a certain amount of discipline.

Denise:)

New Publication Party has started on my blog!

Publication Party starts Wednesday! Author Ann Carbine Best!

Michael Offutt said...

I think I write with my head most of the time.

lbdiamond said...

Yup, writing with my heart often leads to more emotionally charged scenes, whereas writing with my mind leads to more technically correct scenes...hard to find the balance sometimes, ugh!

Nice post!

Will Burke said...

Oh yeah, I'm either trying to build momentum, or riding it, or just taking a breather! During NaNo, I learned to to the work, and carry it through the uninspired times, but I kinda lost my stride over the holiday season.

Rachelle said...

Totally get this! It is amazing how sometimes the writing muse is ON and words are flowing out like a raging river and scenes fall into place perfectly. That's when I love writing the most. When you figure out how to keep the writing "heart" turned on, I wanna know the secret. :)

Rachel Morgan said...

Oh yes, very familiar! My WiP is made up of in-the-moment, inspired scenes that I loved writing, all joined together by plodding-along, gotta-get-this-down moments. I'm hoping the difference doesn't show too much!

Also, random question that may be totally dumb... Do you have to have a yahoo account to be part of a yahoo group, or... not?

Madeleine said...

Ah yes I can well identify with this. I agree about 'being in the zone' because I find when I go for walks or even in the shower I can start composing stuff and then I'll rush to the PC to write it down. :O)

Kerri Cuev said...

This is so true! Great post.
ps I gave you a blogger award :)

Lisa Gail Green said...

I LOVE this post!! I can't believe I never found your blog before... It's sooo true, feeling it is a great experience for us, but in reality you can't tell when reading it, so if you always wait for the muse, so to speak, you'll never get anywhere.

Ann Best said...

This is a wonderful post! Well said.

Yes, when the "heart" takes over, the writing flows. I have to smile in your "head" part: checking email, taking food breaks, getting distracted by anything and everything!

If I want to get something written, it helps if I write on my computer that isn't hooked up to the Internet! If not, I go in and out, checking the mail, looking up people on Wikipedia, etc. etc.!!

I read your comment about my writing journey on L'Aussie's blog. You say your synopsis needs lots of work. Aren't they the most difficult thing to write? I think so...!!

Ann @ Long Journey Home

kangaroobee said...

Hey Rach you could spray some one day, dab on the next. If only it came in a beautiful old-fashioned perfume pump and you sprayed it on at the end. Good luck!

Alison Stevens said...

Definitely the same. Last night I told my husband I can't buy any more M&Ms because when I'm stuck I wander around the house and always end up in the kitchen (with the M&Ms). I prefer the days when I'm in the zone (less fattening).

Have a great weekend!

Talli Roland said...

Definitely sounds familiar! Sometimes it really flows and seems to come from somehwere inside and other times... I feel like I need to think about every word, you know?

Ryan Sullivan said...

I'm the same as you. There are times when I have to force my way through a scene -- it's always a transition to a scene that I know and want to write.

And then I reach that scene that's been in my head for months. And it may not come out the way I'd always expected, but I'm usually pleased with the result.

I think that's me writing with my heart. Not writing it how I *think* it should be written, but writing it the way that *feels* right.

Lisa Nowak said...

Just because you write it with your head doesn't mean you can't revise it with your heart. Just get it down on paper for now and don't stress yourself out worrying about it.

Lucy V Morgan said...

Yep. Whenever I begin a project, there are always favourite scenes that I am building up to: I can see them, smell them, taste them. I know just how the dialogue will go, how a scarf feels on the MC's skin, everytthing. Those are the scenes of my heart; everything else is built around them in a manner which is more mechanical than I probably realise.

Forged documents said...

Each time you commit words to paper in your own inimitable style, you declare your character and personality traits, your talents and abilities, even your current mood.

Sandra's Fiberworks said...

Hmm. Dark horror. Maybe I need a dose. From one writer to another.

Rachael Harrie said...

@Sandra *grins* Definitely!

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