Jan

17

2012

instincts

Filed under: about me, writing

I hear advice, very often, about how writers should trust their instincts. How we shouldn’t follow the market, but write what we love because we should trust our instinct about what people would like to read. How we should take criticism but always with a pinch of salt, because we need to trust our instinct about what’s right for our stories.

This is good advice. At least, my instincts tell me it’s good advice. Writing and publishing are so very subjective that we need a life-saver of instinct to cling to, or else we’d flounder around in a sea of conflicting ideas. Well, more than we already do.

The thing is, I don’t really know if it’s completely true. Personally, sometimes my instincts are spot-on. And sometimes, they really really suck.

My instincts, for example, tell me that everything I write will be loads better with at least one penis joke in it. This is so self-evidently not true that I can’t help but regard my instincts with suspicion.

I’ve submitted at least three books that I actively hated when I pressed ‘send’…and every one of those three books has been called ‘your best yet’ by my editor at the time.* On the other hand, when I sent in my last book I absolutely loved every word of it…and my editor (quite rightly) gave me huge revisions.

Several times, I’ve come up with what I think is an absolutely brilliant idea for a story, only to have it shot down in flames by my agent. But then another idea is okay. Why? Why? For the love of God, why?!!?

My instincts do not tell me. They are too busy partying with the penis jokes.

On the other hand, I usually know instinctively when there’s something wrong with a scene or a plotline a conflict or a character, even if I can’t figure out why. It gets all tangled up and it doesn’t work.

Except, of course, when it does seem to work, and I totally love it, and only discover later on that it doesn’t.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says that truly effective instinctive people have trained themselves with knowledge and experience, so that their split-second decisions are often the most accurate. After eight years as a published author, I’d like to think that’s true; that my instincts are informed by what I’ve learned. But sometimes, I can’t help but think that while you should trust your instincts, you shouldn’t trust them too much. You should look around for knowledge and experience too. For good reasons to fall back on. Maybe this is why I’m an analytical writer as well as an impulsive one; I like to know why something feels right.

I’ve had a really good couple of writing weeks, and I really like what I’ve produced. I think it does exactly what I wanted it to do; I think it’s challenging me while playing to my strengths, and I am in love with the characters**. I feel that way, of course, until it comes time to let it out into the world. Then my instincts run off to party again.

What are your thoughts about your instincts?

 

*I like those books a lot better now, with distance. And no, I’m not going to say which ones they were.

**It doesn’t include any penis jokes, though. I wonder if maybe I should put some in?


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  1. Right now, my thoughts are that my instincts suck, and that everything I’ve ever thought about writing is wrong, up to and including the idea that I could actually do it.

    Crows. There are lots of crows.

    • Lots of crows.

      You can write. You can do this. Deep breaths. Trust my instincts: I believe in you.

  2. Objectively, I know this. In the middle of The Edit From Hell, however, I know nothing. Instincts, eh?

    • *gets out large gun and takes aim at the crows*

  3. I believe in instincts but like most writers don’t always follow them. Most of my edits on The Cornish House where all in areas that I had doubts myself about but didn’t trust my instincts…mind you there also edits but things I sure hadn’t seen either…keep learning…
    lx

    • There’s the other problem…the time when your instincts tell you something wrong, but completely neglect to tell you what the hell it is.

  4. LOL!!! Ah, Julie, you crack me up.

    • You like the penis jokes too, don’t you, Lacey? Don’t you??

  5. BTW I think I should now say for the record: I really like my new book. A LOT.

    I am probably heading for disaster.

  6. There was a penis joke in my last novel that, very sadly, was culled at revision stage (not by me). There were fart jokes in book one and, in book 3 I am going for boob jokes. Whether they survive an editorial cull or not I have no idea!

    • Go for it Cally!!

      (My penis jokes are always removed by editors. Sigh.)

  7. Having just made a very bad decision about my next book – and having to go back to the drawing board – I’m in the “instincts sunk” school at the moment. I’ll have probably changed my mind by next week. Meanwhile, I have to tell my ed that the story I insisted I wanted to write is a non-starter…

  8. That should read “instincts suck”… I can’t even type this week.

    • Yikes. That does, indeed, suck. But maybe with some rest and time away working on something else this book will seem more viable? My instinct is that you can solve most any plot problem, given time…



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