I mentioned in comments to yesterday's post that I finally came up with the title for my NaNo novel. I didn't have one until now because I've already changed my mind three times about what I'm going to write in November. After much thought I decided the haunted house story needs to percolate a bit longer; I also briefly arm-wrestled the temptation to write a contracted book early versus having fun (fun and I won; the contract work will wait until it comes up on the regular work schedule.)
I did all this by blindly following what felt most right. I may pre-plan just about everything about the books I write, but during the decision-making process the comes before all the planning, I've learned to have faith and ride along with my story instincts.
I don't think story instincts are especially logical. Mine cannot be categorized, alphabetized or otherwise organized (I know. I've tried.) I don't know how they work, where they come from or why I got stuck with them, but I've come to trust them, and they've never let me down. My downfalls have come from not following them, and I've stumbled enough times to put my trust where it obviously belongs.
Once I get in line with my story instincts, everything seems to fall into place. Once I made my decision on what to write, I found my title. I also named my protagonists, created backstories for them and figured out their primary conflict. I went online, shopped around and found what I need for my cover art. Other characters have started emerging from nowhere and are telling me their stories. It's a lot like seeing rain drops fall on still waters and watching the ripples form and spread out, and then another, and then two more, etc. I'd like to take credit for what generates that creative storm, but it's a very enigmatic part of my process over which I have no control whatsoever.
The story instincts don't always kick in automatically, and when that happens I feel like I'm fighting the work instead of serving it. Over time I've come up with a few tricks to jump start things, but what mainly works is relaxing, reading and not thinking about it for a day or two. Then when all the noise is out of my head, I pay a brief, polite visit to my conundrum and try to see it with fresh eyes -- and that's when the story instincts generally wake up and go to work.
The theory I've heard that makes the most sense to me about how we acquire these story instincts is saturation via constant exposure. Writers read and write so much that we could be imprinting ourselves with innumerable bits of data that go on to form and guide our choices. It would explain why it's so hard to define story instincts, as they would exist both on conscious and subconscious levels. I just wish they came with an on-switch so I wouldn't have to spend any time driving myself crazy over what should be a fairly simple and logical decision, but maybe that's part of the process, too.
When do you depend on your story instincts? What do you do when you can't tap into them? Let us know in comments.