This post was inspired by a chat I had with a friend recently. We were talking about writing (he is in the process of finishing his first ebook
) and I said to him, “Sometimes when I’m working out an idea, I’ll just start writing it out – even if I’m not sure where to begin – and sometimes, as I’m writing, I’ll see a different direction or a different angle and I’ll go with it, even if that means interrupting the initial idea I had going. It’s kind of like those giant leaps of logic you have when you’re a kid and you’re playing or making up stories.”
I actually experienced that recently with a story I’m working on right now. The whole writing process was like that as I really didn’t know what happens beyond the seed of the idea, so I’m figuring it out as I go along. In some ways, this process is kind of like of a choose-your-own-adventure story.
A few days after this conversation, I came across an interview from last year with Alan Bradley, the author of the Flavia de Luce series, in which he was asked to describe his writing style and he said that it was “spontaneous”. When I read that, it was as if a little spark of recognition started – realizing that my writing is spontaneous, too.
To me, spontaneous writing doesn’t mean waiting for inspiration to strike. In fact, the word “spontaneous” comes from the Latin word spontaneus, meaning “willing, of one’s free will” (Online Etymology Dictionary
), whereas the etymological definition of inspiration is “immediate influence of God or a god” (OED
) or “divine guidance”. As it is commonly understood, inspiration comes from external causes while spontaneity comes from within.
When I’m writing, if I get a different idea – that different direction or angle – and I decide to go with it, rather than putting it aside and carrying on, I am writing spontaneously. I once compared it to improv and I suppose it’s also like when some writers talk about how their characters start talking to them, or do something completely different that they weren’t expecting. For a long time, I thought the notion was rather twee and I tolerated it, though only now – only now – do I think I’m starting to understand.
I view this act of writing spontaneously as different from rewriting or editing while you write: editing requires already existing work, whereas spontaneous writing is going with the flow, even if that means you could take a slightly different route to get to where you were headed or you may end up with something else completely different from what you might have had in mind.
This post was written and published with Desk PM.