The secret all good writers use (and no one talks about)

I used to have a studio at a Melbourne arts precinct. Funnily enough, mine was Studio 54. That might ring a bell for some of you.

Doesn’t  matter. The fact is, my studio was a hub. People were always dropping by for a chat or a grizzle or a giggle.

Most of them were other artists and writers. Some of them were complete strangers.

I had a powder blue couch. Retro from the fifties. A two-seater. Super cute.

People liked to sit on that couch and ruminate.

Sometimes it was weird.

Like, dude, do I look like Jung?

I also had loads of books. Many of them ‘How to Write’ books. Obsessed, I tell you. Obsessed.

One day, a friend and fellow writer dropped by. He had recently been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award, the most prestigious literary accolade in Australia.

He was hot right then. You know, like Hansel. In Zoolander. Yeah.


Because his star was rising, he was getting loads of invitations. Speak here, read there, jump out of cake NOW.

He’d also been asked to teach a class. A How to Write a Novel class, of course.

He was vaguely panicked, and dropped by to see if I had some books that might help him.

He sat on the blue couch.  I’ll never forget what he said—it was so profound it stuck with me for years. (I guess that’s why he was a Miles Franklin… contestant).

He said, ‘Jen. How do you teach something that’s largely intuitive?

OMG. No greater truth was never uttered in Studio 54.

You see, that’s the secret quality  all successful writers possess. The secret tool they’re all using.


More importantly, an intuitive sense of what makes a good story—of how to pique a reader’s interest and keep it piqued. Of how to pace a story,  how to tease out the salient details and breathe life into them. How to use language in ways that are fresh and evocative.

I include myself in this category.

I’ve always known instinctively how to tell a good yarn.

I think I got it from my mother. And grandmother. They could never simply tell you the facts. They had to embellish them. They had to weave them into something bigger and more compelling. Even the most mundane events,  I went down the street and bought a vanilla slice, became a story.

Isolation and loneliness also contributed to my intuitive abilities. As a highly sensitive kid growing up in rural Australia, I had nowhere to go but within. My emotional and psychological survival depended on it. Ditto my sense of humour—the breastplate of my armour, and another quality that relies on intuition. What’s comic timing if not intuition?

Most creative writing schools and how-to courses, don’t mention intuition.

I wouldn’t say they intentionally avoid it. (Ahem.)

But I would say intuition is hard to teach. It’s hard to quantify, hard to force into boxes and grids. Outcomes? Results? Erm, not sure.

It’s also hard to put a price on intuition. It’s a bloody tough sell.

Best ignore it.

And besides, it’s woo-woo, isn’t it?  We worship the left brain in our culture. We hail logic, reason and rationality.

It makes good business sense for creative writing schools to avoid the metaphysical elephant in the room.

When I wrote and recorded my new online creative writing course, Scribbles,  I had intuition foremost in my mind.

For a long time it’s been my dream to help people tap into and develop their storytelling intuition.

That’s why Scribbles might seem a bit loopy. A bit left-of-centre.

But we can’t go on ignoring the importance of intuition in storytelling. We have to find ways to harness intuition and nurture it.

It’s not impossible.

Intuition is not unique, it’s not an exclusive gift.

We all have intuition.

Not only that, I believe intuition and imagination come from the same place. Work on one and you work on the other.

That’s why actors benefit from doing loads of role-playing and improvisation.

And that’s why in Scribbles I encourage play.

And silliness.

And bravery.

Yep, in our society it takes bravery to be playful. People cringe at the thought. It’s confronting. It feels childish, reckless. Sadly, for some it also feels pointless.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I want all aspiring writers to get comfortable with right brain activities and in so doing, develop their intuition. Develop and strengthen that secret quality all good writers know how to utilise.

Scribbles is a small step. You could say it’s a fairy step.

But I believe it’s a step in the right direction.

Jen xo

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