Always Trust Your First Instinct


Have you ever had a piece of advice that has translated into everything you do? Many years ago a junior school teacher gave me just such a piece of advice. Her advice:

Always Trust Your First Instinct

This is a lesson that I have returned to over and over again in my life. Sometimes a little seed of doubt – damn that doubt – creeps in and I second-guess myself. But time and time again I have to do a 180 or a 360 turn back to that first instinct.

This last week has been one of those weeks where I had to do a 360 turn back to my first instinct in my WIP. On advice, from an agent and from a few authors, I had second-guessed a key element of my WIP’s story structure. After much tweaking and re-tweaking I made the new way work. But the entire time while working on the 2nd draft, this new style kept on grating on my nerves. I couldn’t figure out why this 2nd draft was not jelling with me and why this WIP was so determined to fight me every inch of the way.

Then I was asked a question by my cp that jolted me into a massive A-HA (no, I don’t mean the Oprah saying, I am talking about a huge ballad ala AHA the 80s pop band) moment. What was the question? She asked why I had ever changed styles from the 1st draft to the 2nd draft. Bells and whistles went off in my head! Why indeed? Well, there is no reason I can’t change back, is there? No. That is what editing is about. We can change our minds. We can make 180 or 360 turns. We can cut out, add in and re-splice scenes and chapters.

So here are my writing tips for today in #lessonslearnedwhenediting …

  • Always trust your first instinct & Always trust your story
  • The story is your own, hold your own pen and write the story you must write the way it needs to be written because the writing is not done until you type The End.
  • You can always do a 360 and return to your first instinct…It is never too late until it is too late.

Have you ever second-guessed your first instinct & then ended up doing a 360 back to that first instinct?

Has a WIP ever fought you and just not jelled? – What did you do?

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10 Comments

  1. I don’t know about this. Sometimes my instincts are right on the money, but I have gone with my instincts and had that lead to truly horrible mistakes – indeed, there are parts of my life where I’ve continued to go with my instincts time and time again past the point where I should have learned better. The thing is, instincts never really get that kind of context that allows them to quickly change based on a few bad experiences. Your instincts can work for you – but you do need to run them by something a little higher in the brain that can say, “No, I’m sorry, that’s your first instinct but it’s WRONG.”

    And I have to say – doing a 360 does not turn you around in any way. Doing a 360 just gives you a great view of everything around you before you keep going the same way you were going before you started the 360. (And if this is what you meant, I don’t think it’s appropriate to call a second 180 degree turn after the first 180 degree turn ‘a 360’ just because it’s completing a full circle – it’s a second 180.)

    It’s very nice to meet you, nice blog you have over here!

    • No I meant 360 and not 180 because I have ended up back where I started orinally which was best for my story. I think it probably does depend on your how intuitive your instincts are and of course you can choose to second guess those instincts but at the end of the day Personally I have found that my first instincts are the most accurate. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I think the key is what you mentioned… that it didn’t feel right to you. I had several returns of drafts of The Imaginings by an editor and my former agent. Each time, I wanted to rally against them, but in the end (or at least until the most recent–and final–draft), it was just my pride, and once I let the book sit for a little while and came back to the suggestions, I generally agreed with them. Of course, I had a pretty good editor who always encouraged authorial choice on final decisions. This allowed me to come to the right decisions on my own.

    But overall, I think you’re right. You have to make the decision what feels right. And even then, you will still have readers disagree on whether or not it works for them. We can’t make changes based on every different opinion. Now if a large majority of readers are saying something, then perhaps we should listen, but even then, ultimately it’s still your choice.

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • I am all for listening to advice but when the advice makes your story feel alien to you then you need to go with something else…A writer needs to be able to take constructive criticism and I am all for that…but a writer also needs to know when to stand their ground on certain issues. 🙂

  3. Yes, Kim, I am doing the 180.360 thing now with my edits. What I’m finding is that my characters are solid and well-drawn, just not everything needs to be there. I was going to take all of one chapter out, then decided that it was way too much work to unravel the whole thing, that I liked my characters, and by removing the extraneous bits, I could leave them in and make the chapter stronger. It took hours of work and I had to do this thing somewhat backwards — I had to edit chapter 3 before chapter 2 — and I lost 20 pages and 5000 words. I feel that loss, but I know I’ve done the right thing.

    I’ve had to do this before, where I dropped an entire first chapter. My one rule is: Nothing is ever written in stone until it’s in print. I have other “rules” but that’s the first.

    Editing is a harsh business and we need to go with our first instincts…and our second…and our third. As my daughter, Leah, says, “It’s okay to make mistakes. They are all correctible.”

    • So true Deborah! Editing is a harsh business but at the end of the day the ms shines from it! 🙂 So it is worth it in the end.

    • Thanks bardicblogger and thank you for taking the time to comment 🙂

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