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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11 Replies to “The secret all good writers use (and no one talks about)”

  1. This is exactly why everyone came and sat on your couch in your studio Jen – You speak the truth and even say things people don’t want to hear but you make it funny. This post rings so true to me. I lead a very busy life and when I get two minutes to myself I have a panic that I must be productive- creatively productive. But if there is no time for creative play or nourishment …then the well runs dry. I also think people who are not as creative expect you to turn it on like a tap. We’re not wind up bloody monkeys! Can’t wait for the course. Oh and I too was an isolated country kid who then had a long illness as a teen – lots of thinking time. Oh and I’d love to hear about when your mum went down the street and got a vanilla slice – nothing mundane about a snot block in a country bakery!

  2. Fabulous!!

    J x Janeen Brian Award-winning author website: http://www.janeenbrian.com facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JaneenBrian twitter: twitter.com/JaneenBrian email: janeen@janeenbrian.com postal: 11 Short Ave, GLENELG EAST SOUTH AUSTRALIA 5045 phone / fax: (08) 8294 5703 FEATURED BOOKS Yong: the journey of an unworthy son 2017 CBCA Notable book Little Chicken, chickabee 2017 CBCA Notable book I’m a hungry dinosaur 2016 CBCA Notable book 2016 Speech Pathology of Australia- Shortlisted Where’s Jessie? 2016 CBCA Notable book That Boy, Jack: 2014 CBCA Notable book I’m a Dirty Dinosaur: 2013 Get Reading! book 2014 CBCA Honour book 2014 Speech Pathology of Australia – Winner Eddie Pipper: 2013 Speech Pathology of Australia- Shortlisted

  3. I couldn’t love this post more, and I believe you’re right. No, intuition can’t be taught, but learning to listen to it again can. I believe we all have it, we’re born with it, and the saddest thing is we’re taught, very actively and persuasively, to ignore it. It’s not vaued in our society and it is unquantifiable and a bit woo woo, like many instinctive thithis, but we do our kids and ourselves no favours by learning to shut it out. Your course sounds great!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this and can relate to it, Louise! I’m tired on intuition being pushed aside. It’s so often dismissed as ‘women’s stuff’ so there’s most definitely an aggressive gender bias there. 😉

  4. Excuse the typo—’thithis’ is meant to be ‘things’!
    I’m tired of intuition, creativity, and feelings not being given the credibility they deserve, too. I’m especially tired of it getting ‘marked’ out of kids at school, and I’m tired of raising it with a school and just getting all the things they do by the way fostering creative or artistic pursuits, etc., cited back at me to prove me wrong. I’m currently trying to get my kids through an educational system with theirs still intact, so they can still recognise and trust their own intuition once they’re through.
    Sorry about the soapbox and hijacking your post—it’s a bit of a bugbear of mine, as you can probably tell! Your post obviously spoke to me.

  5. Oh yes you have nailed it! I also encourage students to play and write freely to help that intuition develop. Love that you spell it out! Hope the course is filling up xx

  6. Again and again I love reading your post
    Writing was s th I wasn’t good in it .. but I love to do . Reading your blogs is so healing and I m little bit envy .. such a nice studio .. thanks Jen ..

  7. Jen, your approach in ‘Scribbles’ sounds both unconventional and excellent: creative play, silliness, bravery, I’ll be signing up sometime soon! Your old studio sounds wonderful too. Thanks for sharing such an insightful blog!

  8. Reblogged this on GEORGINA BALLANTINE – AUTHOR and commented:
    Jen’s approach in her online course ‘Scribbles’ sounds both unconventional and excellent: creative play, silliness, bravery, I’ll be signing up sometime soon. Her old studio sounds wonderful too. Thanks for sharing such an insightful blog, Jen.

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