Too much logic might kill your best work

“The intellect is a great danger to creativity . . . because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth—who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for over 25 years now, which reads “Don’t think!” You must never think at the typewriter—you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway.” – Ray Bradbury

If there’s a place for logic, perhaps it’s in your research. Facts matter, even in fiction, so it’s a bad sign getting those wrong, worse yet finding out from other people that you got them wrong. A long-time journalism professor and author of textbooks, my father often said that one of the worst things a journalist could do was misspell a person’s name. For one thing, it made him or her look sloppy. For another, it called into question everything else in the new story. If your research is flawed, small inaccuracies may kill your best work.

Otherwise–logic, as Bradbury suggests–gets in the way of our stories and even ourselves. Logic often leads to doubt, even self-doubt, and the frame of mind that arises out of that can easily become a barrier to the story you wish to tell. If you don’t think you can write it, you won’t. If you think you’re not the person to tell the story, you won’t be able to tell it. Our stories lead us down strange roads where it’s best to just keep going rather than thinking, “Holy crap, I’m lost.”

In some cases, being lost is a good thing because how you find your way out makes a good story, or at least provides the confidence you need to continue. Goodness knows, there’s not a lot of validation for aspiring writings and emerging authors, so allowing yourself the time and excitement of being lost from time to time is much better than fighting being lost. And besides, it’s easy to become prey for the doubters in your life who think you’ll never write anything, much less anything that gets published and sells a few copies, maybe a lot of copies.

Plus, it seems that when we use logic to try and puzzle our stories out of one misstep or another or one troublesome scene or another, we’re not likely to tell a story that’s true within itself and resonates with readers. I know one writing expert who says the stories we write are already “out there” in some kind of limbo area waiting for us to find them and tell them. I’m not sure I want to go that far. I do see, though, that stories appear to have an innate intelligence that wants to go in a particular direction for one reason or another. So, as we said years ago, the author has to go with the flow rather than thinking up logical rationale for swimming against the story’s current. If you’re swimming against the story’s current, you’re thinking. Stop it!

Down the road, you can do your thinking during the editing process. Then you’ll find inconsistencies, holes in the plot, and possibly other things that don’t add up. Or, maybe you won’t.

This is going to sound strange, but when I find a bunch of prospective characters who are doing one thing or another, I find it best not to judge them or find some logical yardstick that proves they’re messed up. Better to write down what they’re doing and discover the story in it. Just don’t think too much about what you’re doing.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the three novels in the Florida Folk Magic series, “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena.”