In this interview, Writers.com instructor Sarah Aronson outlines what she calls the “Three I’s” of writing: inspiration, intuition, and intellect. She discusses how overrelying on intellect can stifle us as writers, and how to use a “Three I’s” approach to unlock creativity in our writing process.
Sarah is a recognized children’s book author and educator. Her new book, Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines, is out now with Simon and Schuster.
You were in town to give a talk about what you call the “Three I’s” of writing. What can you tell us about that?
Yes, I was here talking about my latest book, Just Like Rube Goldberg. I wrote that story when I had given myself the challenge of writing whatever I felt like—to “eat dessert first,” to live like David Bowie and indulge in the creative spirit.
What I found is that my creativity is really amplified by the “Three I’s”: Intellect, Inspiration, and Intuition. Intellect, using your brain, is only part of it, and really not as important as the other two.
Creativity, for me, starts with inspiration, which takes time, and community, and patience. You have to look for inspiration—you can’t just wait for it by looking at your phone.
Then, intuition is to take that inspiration and really play with it, to “intuit into it” and work with it until it is working in your story.
And then intellect comes back again, where you use your brain to create logic and make sure that your story is working correctly.
How is writing from a “Three I’s” approach different from the default approach to writing?
When I was in school, intellect was very high on the list: you were going to think about plot, about character, about word choices. We were thinking about product, is what we were doing. I want to validate the process.
Once you have words on the page, that is not a time to cut off inspiration or intuition, but a time to invite inspiration and intuition back into your process, and to continue to explore and what I call “reimagine” your story, rather than revisioning.
How can we as writers put the “Three I’s” into practice?
As one example, I use a method called the Pomodoro Method: I write for 25 minutes, and then I take ten minutes off, where I don’t do anything. During that ten minutes, usually that’s where my inspiration will come.
During those 25 minutes, I write as fast as I can. I really try to write without expectations, so that I can find glimmers in my writing. If my conscious is overtaking my subconscious, then I’m worried about the individual words. If my subconscious—my intuition and inspiration—are working, then who knows what’s going to happen? Then I can take what makes it to the page and continue to make sense of that using my intellect.
So it’s really a revolving, never-ending cycle of inviting new ideas and new ways of thinking about your story to the page.
It sounds like there’s more space in this approach to writing. Is that true?
Yes. A really essential part of writing is listening, waiting, and not being busy. As a kid, my best ideas came when I was bored stiff—because you’re bored stiff, and it’s like “Oh my God, what am I going to do? I gotta do something really great.” It’s the same with writing: if you’re really busy, and just focusing on making that one sentence the best that it can be—or even worse, if you have a favorite sentence, and you’re trying to hold onto it and keep it—you’re only going to look at the story from one side.
That quietness and stillness, what we see in yoga, where you have to get comfortable with stillness, is really important to my particular process of writing. When I’m still and listening, things come to me. When I’m not listening, obviously inspiration can go right by. It’ll just find someone else who’s paying attention.
What can you tell us about Just Like Rube Goldberg?
Just Like Rube Goldberg is a picture book biography of Rube Goldberg. People think he was an inventor, but he invented absolutely nothing. He designed elaborate contraptions, but he only drew them—he didn’t actually make any of them. Most people think he was this wacky inventor, but he actually drew a wacky inventor named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts.
So this book allows me essentially to say to kids, and to grown-ups who read the book as well, that talent is optional, and that determination is mandatory. If you have an idea, work as hard as you can, and have a really good time getting there. Rube Goldberg had a really good time. And since this challenge I did, I now have a much better time writing. And I think when we have a better time, we feel more confident, and when we’re more confident, we’re better writers. We’re better at saying what we want to say when we know that we really do have something to say, when it matters to us.
So that’s how it all works for me. When I’m worried about whether it’s going to sell, or whether it’s going to sound smart enough for the smart people I know, that’s when writing pulls me down. When I’m eating dessert first, I’m super-happy.
Everybody has a story, and there’s room for everyone, and we all want to read your stories, so send them to us, and come work with us.