During the pacing panel at Nebula Weekend, there was a bit of a recurring theme. Ferret and Rachel and Tom and I kept describing the process of story pacing as 'something you feel in your gut'.
Not particularly helpful information for a new and struggling writer.
But I've been thinking about it all week, and I'm pretty sure I know where that 'gut feeling' comes from. What the other panelists and I described as a writer's instincts are nothing more than the internalized results of countless hours spent grappling with The Rules of Writing -- of which there are many, and most of them conflict.
Novice authors tend to have very unpleasant interactions with The Rules of Writing; the more they try to follow good advice, the more mechanical and frustrating the process of writing becomes. Most authors eventually get to a place where they feel like shouting, "This isn't any fun anymore. What happened to all my creative fire?"
But most authors also eventually move past that point. You see, writing according to The Rules is a bit like learning to dance. You can't get one part to work until all the parts are working. So you try to practice pieces in isolation -- like footwork, or head position, or whatever your dance instructor has chosen as the torture method of the day -- and everything feels awkward and off-balance, because your posture is too crooked to support your head weight, and your timing is too choppy to enable proper footwork, and your feet aren't stepping in the right spot anyway...
Writing's just the same. It's hard to perfect your plotting if your characters are flat, and it's hard to describe the scenery if your worldbuilding's incomplete, and it's hard to generate tension if you haven't tapped into reader empathy. And the list goes on and on.
So when you're starting out, it seems like the more you try to do things 'right', the more awkward and complicated everything becomes. But there's hope. Because eventually, you start figuring out how to link all those isolated techniques into a comprehensive whole. And you start to become familiar with the patterns, and after a while you don't have to think so much about what you're doing and you can just write again.
This 'gut feeling' that we've all been talking about is the result of having worked so intimately with The Rules of Writing that you don't have to consciously invoke them anymore. You just kind of know what to do. And you break some rules and follow others and invent a couple of your own steps along the way, because that's what makes writing fun again.