Friday, August 26, 2011
Training Your Intuition
I'm beginning to think intuition is our own personal superpower.
On vacation, I picked up a magazine at a local bookstore in Leadville, CO, and read aloud in the car (best way to quell the insurrection in the back seat). The article claimed about 95% of what we know is actually knowledge stored in our unconscious, with only the remaining 5% available for conscious recall.
The article used an example based on driving. When drivers were asked to consciously describe the steps involved in changing lanes, they were unable to do it correctly. However, they could all perform the motions easily when actually driving. They had long ago learned how to change lanes, and after many repetitions, the process gets "forgotten" by the conscious mind, turning into a kind of "muscle memory" familiar to pianists and athletes.
It doesn't just work for physical tasks, though. Much of what we know, we have trained our brain to understand. We don't have to recall a particular knowledge consciously, to deploy it (very successfully) on intuition alone. The fact that you can read this sentence without sounding out the words is evidence of a complex task you learned a long time ago and now perform without consciously thinking about it.
My husband is a great example of this, having done tremendous amounts of engineering calculations and design work over many years. I often tell him that his off-the-top-of-his-head guess about a mechanical design is better than most people's calculations. And it is. Because he knows how mechanics and structural properties and stresses work. He's trained his intuition in mechanical design.
I think the same applies to writing.
When I'm learning a new concept (to me) about writing - whether craft or storytelling or process - I have to repeat it. Again and again, preferably with an actual WiP. Then there comes a point where I don't have to consciously think about it (as much). I can feel it seeping into my unconscious. I've trained my intuition to know how to use active verbs or how to build rising tension.
I believe we all have trained our intuitions with years (and decades) of reading great stories. Tapping into that intuition, listening to that gut feel about your story, can open an avenue to reaping the knowledge you have (but may not realize) about storytelling.
And all that time you're spending learning new craft? Someday it's going to be as natural as breathing.
And that's a superpower if I've ever seen one.
(Note: I don't think writing ever gets easy. There is always the struggle to get words out of your brain and on to the page. But the product that comes out improves with the amount of training your intuition has received on which words to pick, when, and why. This is similar to the theory about writing a million bad words before writing good ones or laboring for 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. Both involve a lot of training of your intuition.)
How do you train your intuition?