The Tuning Fork – Knowing When It’s Right

11 Jul

by Savannah J. Foley


When I was younger, I literally thought I was crazy. I felt about writing in a way that none of my other writing friends did. I seemed to have an instinct for what would work in a story and what wouldn’t, something my peers weren’t even conscious of. Later on I found out that I was just a normal writer, but that fascination with the ‘different’ things I was feeling never really went away.

Recently I read an article where the author mentioned that when she had an epiphany about a particular topic from reading a quote, she “felt every tuning fork in me go buzz.” Well, my tuning forks were going buzz, too. Not at her same revelation, but at her very description.

I, and just about every writer I know,  have an innate ‘tuning fork’ of sorts that gives me insight into my writing. It’s the extra sense when something ‘feels right.’ For me it’s a slight pressure on my chest as if the idea has landed there and started absorbing into me, usually precipitated by a rising feeling of excitement. It’s a sense of rightness, of saying, ‘Yes. Yes, that’s it exactly!’

My tuning fork thrums when I see a quote or hear a song lyric that unlocks the meaning to a feeling inside me I didn’t even know I had. As if I couldn’t recognize this knowledge I was carrying until those words verbalized it.

Lately I’ve been thinking about that ‘gut feeling’, particularly as it relates to novel writing. Last month I hit a burst of creativity that allowed me to write 10k in two days and finish a book I was working on, but it wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t listened to my tuning fork to guide the way. After experiencing a rush like that, I wanted to keep the momentum going, and continue to work at a crazy pace. So I started brainstorming on my next book.

And ran out of steam.

What could be wrong? I kept asking myself. I was just plowing through this other story, why am I stopped here? Eventually I realized it was because I was forcing scenes I logically thought would work, instead of listening to my tuning fork telling me that emotionally that scene is NOT going to work, and in fact I need to start from a completely different perspective.

This ‘tuning fork’ is something I think that all writers need to learn how to recognize. Because you realize I’m not talking about some fictional organ in your body cavity thrumming with activity. The ‘tuning fork’ is actually your subconscious, the place where a story’s bones are grown. I believe that you can write a book using pure logic, but it’s not going to be fun, and in the end won’t be enjoyable.

We write because we want to communicate. And communication comes with a whole slew of other social cues: tone, connotation, trust, etc. You have to use every piece of humanity at your disposal to create a story that’s going to thrum with your readers, that’s going to activate their tuning forks and make them realize that a part of them is in that story, too.

How good are you at listening to your tuning fork, and when has it steered you right? Let’s discuss in the comments!


Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Nameless (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Her website is, but she updates more frequently on her livejournalShe is currently working on editing Nameless to go out on submissions. You can read an excerpt from Nameless here.


15 Responses to “The Tuning Fork – Knowing When It’s Right”

  1. Hannah July 11, 2011 at 2:22 AM #

    I don’t know if I have an inner tuning fork. If anything it is more like an inner hamster wheel. Okay, I take that one back. Perhaps an inner corvette? My point is when I get excited about something and I know it is right, everything seems to speed up. There is a hum like when you are riding in a sports car and everything is way too fast and way too fantastic.

    Sometimes it is hard to get it started though. (To continue with my extended metaphor,) I need the right fuel and it is hard to find.

    • savannahjfoley July 11, 2011 at 9:02 AM #

      Ooh, that sounds like a really neat metaphor. 🙂

  2. authorguy July 11, 2011 at 6:23 AM #

    Use the Force, Luke!

    • savannahjfoley July 11, 2011 at 9:03 AM #

      Oh my goodness, when I was little I tried so hard to use the Force…

  3. Stacy Green July 11, 2011 at 6:59 AM #

    I definitely have a inner tuning fork. I think this is why I’m more of a panster. I know people slam it, and I do outline, to an extent. I know my big scenes and plot turns. But I let everything in the middle come to me, because I get my best ideas when I’m writing. Does it mean extra work? Yes. But the more I write, the better I get at it. I’d rather have to to write extra than to slug through a scene that didn’t feel right.

    • savannahjfoley July 11, 2011 at 9:03 AM #

      I’m with you; the details come forth when I’m in the moment slogging through, but I do like to have the bigger plot points already planned out before I start.

  4. Rowenna July 11, 2011 at 8:51 AM #

    I love this analogy! Yes and more yes 🙂 I also think of it like paddling a canoe. When you’re against the current or out of synch it’s like slogging through molasses. If it’s too hard, you’re not doing it right. But when you get your stride together, or fall in with the current the right way, it feels right.

  5. Carol July 11, 2011 at 8:51 AM #

    Instant recognition upon reading this post! …. my tuning fork went buzz:)) big time LOL Knowing and paying heed when your gut informs you this is ‘right’ or perhaps…’no, don’t go there!’ this is such a fabulous gift to have and am so grateful to have it:)

    • savannahjfoley July 11, 2011 at 9:05 AM #

      Haha, fellow tuning forkers unite!

  6. Reno Fanucci July 11, 2011 at 9:29 AM #

    I can definitely relate to this post!

    I have spent an immeasurable amount of time in my life thinking through and getting to know my feelings about all kinds of external inputs.

    Much like you, it could be a quote, a song, a line from a film, something I overheard etc.

    It brings me to my most creative point and the ideas simply flow. Without it, they don’t – well not freely anyway.

    The downside to it is of course that the world is full of stimuli and the number of ‘thrums’ is endless to the point if distraction. I end up with a jumble of many things that I am feeling and relating to. Although not impossible to filter I do find it difficult. No wonder my school reports said I was easully distracted 🙂

    • savannahjfoley July 11, 2011 at 4:01 PM #

      That’s true that sometimes the ‘thrum’ can be distracting… I’ve had to learn that not every ‘whoa!’ moment means a novel is in the works.

  7. Holly July 11, 2011 at 3:47 PM #

    I had this happen just last week. I saw a picture that struck a chord, and then had a *gasp* real-life experience that made me understand what my character would be feeling, instead of what I think she should be feeling. Those are the moments I live for as a writer — that instant where everything clicks into place and the words take flight. 😉

    • savannahjfoley July 11, 2011 at 4:02 PM #

      Yes! I absolutely live for those moments where everything falls into place. It’s a strange mix between chance and subconscious swirling. Nearly magical. 🙂

  8. Victoria Dixon July 15, 2011 at 5:35 PM #

    It ALWAYS steers me right, though there are times when it’s more right than others. LOL It always tells me when something’s just wrong. When I hit a road block in a book, I try to listen to my instincts, but I think I need to find a way to tune the tuning fork. It’s definitely buzzing or talking to me, but not always in a language I speak. Yet. ;D

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