The Tingle

One of the most interesting aspects of the creative life as it pertains to writing books is something beyond craft itself. Let me see if I can explain it.

A few weeks ago we asked Harvest House author Mindy Starns Clark how she was coming on her Titanic novel (Echoes of Titanic) and she replied that all was well because she had gotten “the tingle.” The tingle, she went on to explain, is that point (usually several drafts in) at which the characters, the story, and the research all seem to come together and she knows that, yes, this is all going to turn out just fine. A book IS being born.

I love the word “tingle” to describe this sensation an author feels. Of course, other authors experience it in different ways or have different names for it. Another great Harvest House author is BJ Hoff. She says:

“I call it the ‘angel touch,’ after something my (very Irish) grandmother used to say when she had a ‘sense’ that things were going to ‘work,’ to be all right. It sometimes doesn’t come until I’m over halfway through a book (sometimes sooner), but once it happens, it’s as though as though all the pieces of the puzzle simply slide together, fit and lock in place as they should, and I actually get a physical sensation at the back of my neck that ‘this is it. It’s going to work.’”

A third Harvest House author, Murray Pura, gets his version of the tingle as he first begins the writing process. When I described Mindy’s tingle, Murray described what happens to him this way:

“I like Mindy’s description. But it’s not a ‘tingle’ for me. [It happens when] I start the real writing. It’s like something pent up has been let loose, I can feel the opening inside of me, and there is a strong and steady flow that can cut through rock and earth that bursts forth and begins to go steady and sure. It carries me with it to places and scenes and characters I did not always anticipate or plan for and it is irresistible and unstoppable. It can be like a fire too and hurt and burn if I do not let it out and hurt and burn even if I do. I am swept away with it until we empty into the great sea of the ending. This very much happened with Wings of Morning and Face of Heaven. There is a verse in Jeremiah 20:9 that describes something of this feeling. ‘…his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.’”

If you read enough books about the various processes writers go through as they create their books, you know that there are differences in how this creative animation (for want of a better word) happens. But at some point, the dry words on the page must leap to life in the heart of the author, for only then will they also leap to life in the mind of the eventual reader.

One problem I’ve faced as I teach workshops on writing fiction is how to teach someone this vital element of fiction writing. The truth is, I don’t know how…yet. I wonder, too, if other disciplines experience this. Do composers get “the tingle” when their music composition comes to life for them? How about sculptors? Painters? Quilters? (I’ll have to ask my wife about that last one).

How is it for you? Can you describe the sensation you get when your book finally springs to life on the page? Is it early on or late in the process? Do you always get it or only sometimes? Tell all!

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16 Responses to The Tingle

  1. Robbie Iobst January 24, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Nick,
    I love this post. As someone who has not had the honor of having a book published yet (I say the yet in faith) I too, have experienced my own version of “the tingle.” For me it’s the joy of writing something I truly like. When my own writing makes me laugh or cry or think, the tingle, or maybe it’s the hope of the Spirit, overwhelms me and I know that I know that I know I should keep trying. Despite rejections and moments where the words are flat and lifeless, the tingle lets me know that there is deep purpose to sitting in front of my laptop, day after day. Perhaps this is not exactly what you were talking about, but as I read your post, I could relate in my own not-yet-published way. Thank you!

  2. Melissa K. Norris January 24, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Tingle is a good word. For me, it’s like a little bell dings inside my head with a new idea, plot thread, or character. Something I didn’t plan or see, but works so wonderfully, I wonder how I didn’t see it before. It comes in different places, but usually after the first fifty pages or so.

    I love that verse from Jeremiah. That is our call as Christian writers, is it not? Might have to print that out on a card to put at my computer. Thanks.

  3. Lori Benton January 24, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    I love this part of writing. It happens early on for me. It’s largely what compels me to attempt to do this exhausting, impossible thing (write a novel) yet again. It’s the sense that yes, I DO have a story here, something worth telling. A story I must tell myself, if no one else. It might come during the plotting process when I first see the beginning, middle, and end. It might come in the early days when the main characters come clear to me and I fall in love with them. It might happen early in the first draft when the characters on the page surprise me in some way that suddenly fills that thin spot in the plot, or clarifies that worryingly unknown route from Point B to C. That’s when I know it’s all going to work out. However it happens, it has to come early on or else I wouldn’t have the courage, passion, or energy to tackle the writing. It’s the wave I ride through the rocky shoals I know I’ll encounter before The End.

  4. Rachel Hauck January 24, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    I love this… and it’s true. You get a sense in your gut that the book is coming together. I call it the “ping.” My heart and mind is resonating with the story, the characters and they are in turn resonating with each other. I might find some odd but corresponding research that “pings” with what I’m writing.

    Ping!

    Rachel

  5. sally apokedak January 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Well, maybe this is why I’m still unpublished. I get the feeling that the story will work and I lose it again. I go back and forth with each book several times. I have the love/hate relationship.

    When I love the work, words pour out. Is that cause or effect? I suspect I love it BECAUSE the words are pouring out. But then I hit a plot point that doesn’t work and the words stop, and I hate the book again. I’m sure it’s broken and can never be repaired. And then I’ll figure out how to get around the problem and I’ll love the work again.

    But no matter how lively the words are in my heart–they are dancing jigs in there, I assure you–I haven’t yet been able to make them leap into life in the minds of the acquisitions editors. 🙂

  6. Amanda Dykes January 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    It’s like Emily’s “flash” in Emily of New Moon! I wonder how L.M. Montgomery, Emily’s author, would’ve described her own “tingle.”

  7. brad/futuristguy January 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Several thoughts, Nick. I believe this sensation you’re describing is a family member in what Hungarian creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow” – – when you’re so in the groove of whatever it is that you’re designed for, that you lose consciousness of time and space around you and you are completely in the creative moment. Flow can happen in any field of endeavor, as Csikszentmihalyi’s research shows. He selected about 100 paradigm-shifting creators from business, arts, science and technology, and other fields who were almost all at least 60 years old. He interviewed them about their personal history, how they chose their field of passion and what happens when they create. Then he extracted out 10 paradoxical principles that seemed to appear across the board for these creators.

    http://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Flow-Psychology-Discovery-Invention/dp/0060928204/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327436102&sr=8-1

    Perhaps the best movie illustration of this comes from *A Beautiful Mind* in the scene where Russell Crowe’s character is looking at walls of numbers and discerning patterns among them. The visuals and the background music score are stunning, and it gives a strong sense of what that kind of creative “tingle” is like.

    I’ve had the same experience of “flow” in creating a sleek design for an event or an organization, detecting patterns in cultural systems, writing, etc. There’s a paradoxical sense of astonishment, awe, and “Well, that makes sense!” – – all at once.

    For us as writers, maybe part of that gestalt of “flow” is the awareness of things coming together for not just a good read, but an integrative and surprising one! And this can happen for us whether we’re fiction or (as I currently am) non-fiction writers. For me, getting to that point of recognition that *Hey, this really IS gonna actually kinda sorta work out!* is the moment when writing switches from the perfunctory (like a pianist practicing his/her scales) to “elegance.” When this happens for me, I have a meta-cognition moment where I am, in effect, swooping in on my creative process with an extra set of eyes, and I know experientially within myself that it is all coming together – – it is all integrating as all that I am integrates into it: mind, imagination, emotions, and whatever part of us it is that senses paradoxical mystery … the soul? The spirit? In essence, this experience is a “paradigm shift” that puts me into a different realm of being from where I was before, and I cannot go back to where I used to be; the only way out is forward, completing the project at hand … but sensing fully that all shall ultimately work out all right. The Gordonian Knot has untied itself, as it were, leaving a virtual trail for me to follow.

    For me, that timing of a moment of achieving elegance in the process and foreknowing the end result is unpredictable, as I believe there are elements of both personal spiritual discernment involved AND moments of providential leading of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes these occur early in the process, sometimes later. But it does always seem to emerge against the backdrop of all that mundane (but utterly essential!) prep work … “the sponge effect” where our creativity pump is primed with enough to keep the “flow” fluid.

    My most recent “swoops of elegance” (1) dotted the extensive (and pretty much final) revision of a curriculum mega-project that includes 7 books with interwoven topics, and (2) happened this past week, in working in-depth on the first book in that series.

    Okay, so that was longer than expected, but since the third book in my series is on learning styles and spiritual formation, and the fourth one is on creativity training and tools, I guess I’m experiencing that immersion “sponge soak-up” effect …

  8. Carol Genengels January 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    The Tingle. Usually I get something akin to goose bumps when I reread something that I know was inspired. I love how the Holy Spirit brings things together. I was surprised that while writing a scene where my characters were going through a heartbreaking trial, I burst into tears. I literally sobbed. Then I remembered something I once heard in a writing class. “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” It is strange but every person who has read that story comments on how they cried during that scene, as well as other scenes. Several have asked, “Did you cry when you wrote that?” I have to admit that I did. I try to feel my character’s emotions whether it be grief, shame, pride, embarrassment, love, joy, or passion. Life is never dull when writing.

  9. Timothy Fish January 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    A tingle? Sitting too long without getting some circulation going will do that to you.

    I never feel good about a book until the second draft. If I find myself hurrying on to the next page so I can find out what is going to happen next (even though I’m the one who wrote it) then I know it is good, but no tingles.

  10. Richard Mabry January 24, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Nick, I don’t have a word for it. I like to say the feeling is like a giraffe–can’t describe it but you’ll know it when you see it. For me, the moment usually comes somewhere during the last third of the book. That’s when I can hardly wait to get to my office and start writing, because I’m anxious to see how the characters are going to finish the story. And, somehow, they always do.

  11. Sue Harrison January 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    I have to echo what Timothy says, except for me it’s not the 2nd draft, it’s the 3rd. Second draft is always disappointing. What?? Those perfect words I wrote in the 1st draft still need this much work? Arrgghhh…

  12. Dana E January 24, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    I think “tingle” is a great word. Although unpublished, I have felt that feeling on the two manusctipts I’m working on. For me, it’s a feeling that I can “touch” someone emotionally. I’m a counselor by day, and when I know I’ve truly helped/encouraged someone, I get the same feeling.

    It’s like God is speaking to me saying, “That’s it. That’s what I put you on earth to do – touch someone.”

  13. Evelyn B. Ryan January 24, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    I get a feeling of self satisfaction and gratitude for the “gift” of writing that God gave me. There is a very “happy” feeling and I can’t wait to share it with my sisters and my dear mother. I write poetry, mostly spiritual, but other types of poetry too, i.e., poems about my farm animals, walking in my garden, nature, war, my Indian ancestors, etc., almost anything when the spirit hits me. And I truly love it. I thank God all the time for His gifts and I try to share them with others, hopeing they will touch that special place in their hearts that might draw them closer to God. I also love writing children’s stories. I am working on re-writes now on two of my stories. I hope I get that same satisfaction that lets me know that it works.

  14. Jacqueline Ley January 25, 2012 at 2:25 am #

    For me, that tingle comes when plot development ideas for the novel start popping into my head when I’m not at my laptop. I may be in the shower or driving the car and ideas pour in thick and fast. Whole swathes of dialogue between characters start clamouring in my head and I have to grab a notebook as soon as possible and jot things down in case I forget. That’s when the novel seems to take on its own independent life and begins to gallop. Sometimes I just feel like I’m hanging on for dear life – an exhilarating process!

  15. Janalyn Voigt January 27, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    When a story idea stirs, I try to forget ir. If I can’t, I plot the book. By then the major elements have already come together, but as I write I still make discoveries. These bring a profound sense “rightness” and, yes, a tingle.

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