I smell another sweet Monday people which means it’s time to get our Meditative Monday on. And today’s topic?
That old adage, “Follow Your Instincts” and how it can help us when we write, edit, or just exist on this planet in general.
We hear this a lot as success and motivation advice, but what people don’t always say is when to follow your instincts, or how to even begin to understand what the heck your instincts are saying because they don’t exactly speak-o the Engrish.
And besides, I could easily follow my instincts to a Korean barbecue restaurant or a strip club, but that does not mean I should be splurging on either.
Speaking Instinct And How It Helps When We’re Stuck
Without a mouth to say anything, your gut has to rely on feelings to tell you something, and usually these feelings tend to fall in the category of “good” or “funny”. People are all different, so you might have a richer palate of feelings behind your belly button, but for me they tend to be pretty binary.
But where they get tricky is that gut instincts usually show up in a situation where it often does not make sense to have that feeling. You might have had a feeling to tune into this post today, to go to a place you haven’t been to in a while, or to not take that job that looks really good.
For me, I tend to follow two rules of thumb about my gut:
Never ignore a funny feeling no matter how minor. I once had a friend that gave me a bad feeling. I never had this feeling when we met, so you can imagine that I was hella confused when I first had it. For a long time I would just rationalize it away as just typical ups and downs of friendship. As far as knew, my friend didn’t seem to be doing anything wrong.
But the feeling was persistent, and the degree of badness just felt worse until I started to realize that I was feeling the same exact way I would feel if my life was actually in danger. And at that point, I decided to end the friendship before the reason rears its head.
Needless to say, I haven’t had that bad feeling since and that feeling keeps me in line if I’m ever tempted to return. I have ignored bad feelings before and let me tell you, the results always made me regret it, so I always make sure to pay extra attention and take care of whatever causes that feeling as early as possible.
How Instinct Can Be Phenomenal When We Write
Story time again!
When I revisited opening scene for my current novel, I was so excited and brimming with new ideas.
Until I went back over it to add those ideas in.
I had decided to change it so that the POV character was married to the “villain” (wink, wink) because the first guy she was married too seemed too “nice”. It seemed good on paper. New guy had wants she didn’t. She had wants that he didn’t want. People had clear reasons for being where they were and there was conflict up the butt. But then it got to the point where the two supposed to have a moment…
I clearly remember how I just sat there at my aunt’s dining room table just staring at my unfinished sentence for like half and hour straight.
She just would not touch him at all, even though the “villain” wasn’t abusive or cruel to her in any way. And I give pronouns because it literally seemed like Eun Hae had exactly much enthusiasm for office nookie as this shiba inu has about lemons.
Now I didn’t have that danger feeling in my gut as I did with my former friend. In this version, my brain just shut down and refused to make any more beautiful words.
At first, I thought that I was just stuck on how to write the physical act of it, but I had a nagging suspicion in me and I decided to test it by switching the POV character to being married to the nice guy she was initially with.
To no surprise, there was still no office nookie. But she was more than willing to reassure Mr. Nice and show plenty of warm affection. And overall, his background fit the story’s flow much better.
This type of instinctual guidance is what I believe we authors often like to call “characters driving the story”, or “stories speaking to us”. And it’s one that we shouldn’t ignore, pantser or plotter.
As I’ve said before, we might feel snug and secure when we type up our outlines and pencil in that explosion on page 45 that we think is utter genius, but a story’s preparation and writing phase is when we understand the least about it.
There was once a part of my WIP that I planned, and all during the writing phase I felt awful about it. I tried telling myself that I could just fix it later, even if I didn’t like it, but it bothered me so much and felt so out of place that I just had to fix it right then. I felt much better about the scene that replaced it thankfully.
So in a way if all this talk about gut feelings is starting to sound a little far-fetched, think of it this way: the next time you’re stuck, it’s not because writing is hard, it’s not because your story is bad, it’s not because you don’t know how to write.
Most likely, it’s because you’re forcing the story too far in the wrong direction and running out of steam is your creative mind’s way of saying, “Okay buddy, I’m gonna set another route on this GPS because I don’t like where we’re goin’. ”
Often, I hear about other writers giving up on a project and beating themselves up because a story isn’t going exactly the way they want to.
But something that I think that gets forgotten in the moments of writing is that just because we have ideas on the way things could be does not mean that’s the way things should be. The fantasy of being the cool, calculating mastermind that’s in control of every little fine detail to write their best-seller is just exactly that: a fantasy.
In fact, if you controlled every detail of your story on an unforgiving structure, you’d strangle the poor thing to a slow painful death.
Why? Because then you wouldn’t be allowing new ideas to come in an inspire you, or discover new situations. If something doesn’t go a certain way, then writing suddenly becomes unnecessarily stressful while you try to figure out how to stay on schedule.
I’ve been in this boat myself and I’m happy I don’t bother to get on anymore. I still make sure I plot whatever I’m supposed to be writing for the day, and maybe a little bit for the next day or so, but I’m a firm believer that our gut doesn’t nag at us “just because”.
Our conscious thinking brains miss out on a lot of things (hell, it even messes up on information we already know). If we only relied on our stable logic and never had epiphanies or followed our guts.
A goat herder would’ve never tried the fruit that gave us all coffee. Ruth and Sue would keep making butterscotch nut cookies and we’d never have chocolate chip cookies. And I’d certainly not be here talking to you guys.
But Buddhas almighty batman, this post has gotten way longer that I wanted (it’s okay though).
Until next week!