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?

I can sleep when I am dead…

…this…according to my internal clock (life of an insomniac) and the alarm clock that is my Muse (life of a writer)…motto of story = Drink more coffee!

Sleep is over-rated anyway…No seriously, before you lecture me on the importance of sleep, I rate sleep highly especially because it tends to elude me. Main reason # 1: I am an insomniac, irrefutable, incurable. Believe me I have tried everything from acupuncture to sleeping pills to sleeping herbs to lavender sachets on pillows to silk eye masks to white noise machines. I have just learned to accept that about myself. Reason # 2: My mind does not switch off…I can lie in bed for hours with my eyes closed and still sleep does not arrive. I think I need to send a “redirect all mail” to the Sandman as he has obvious issues with getting to me in time each night. Reason # 3: (and the reason that led me to writing this post) My muse drags me out from my sleep-starved state, usually just as I have finally fallen asleep, at the craziest hours with the best ideas and sometimes if I am lucky enough with the best scenes.

Funnily enough I can be sitting in front of the computer all day waiting for inspiration to strike and nothing happens. But come the hour between 3 -4 am and he won’t shut up. But don’t get me wrong I am not complaining. Thank goodness my Muse won’t shut up. But just once it would be nice if he kept human hours not cat hours. Now you can see why this blog is called “Wrestling the Muse”: He is usually trying to drag me kicking and screaming from a very sleep-starved state and I am usually wrestling to get back to sleep. Who wins? The Muse. Sorry Sandman. But my writerly Muse trumps you every time and kicks your butt to the curb…sleeping dust or no sleeping dust.

This was the scene in my bedroom this morning at about 4.45am. I know this was the time because when I was dragged from my sleep (which had only arrived at 3.15am) I looked at the clock to see if I had actually made it to past sunrise which my aching mental muscles prodded me into denying. What dragged me from sleep? My Muse and the first scene of my new WIP. I saw the scene as clear as if I watching it on a high-definition 3d cinematic screen. For about a minute I wrestled with my Muse and gambled whether if I rolled over and ignored it, I would be able to remember it when I woke up after sunrise. But the wrestling did not last long as I knew the gamble would come with the higher risk of me not remembering what I had seen. So without switching on the light, I grabbed my iPod touch and logged into my Evernote app (Not just a name-dropping plug…This app is amazing! My favourite note-taking/note-syncing app – seriously you should try it out!) and wrote exactly what I saw in my mind’s eye. I barely knew what I was writing as I was still in a 1/2 sleep/wake state. Then I rolled over and fell exhaustedly into sleep again. When I woke the second time this morning (this time after sunrise) I had the next 2 scenes ready to write as well. The Muse’s prodding was so strong that instead of my usual dreamless sleep I fell straight back into the scenes of my WIP.

So now I sit with the first three scenes, two new characters and very little sleep. But I am not tired. Instead I am high on adrenaline. The exact same way I get when watching a scary movie or after rigorous exercise is how I am feeling right now. It is early afternoon now and I am buzzing with adrenaline, excitement and anticipation. To be honest, the scenes that I dreamt were not how I was planning on starting the WIP. I had a total other beginning in mind or rather my conscious mind had another plan entirely. But my Muse / my Sub-conscious knew better this time. This beginning, coming from the depths of a sleep-starved mind is much stronger and more visceral in intensity than what I had planned in my conscious awake state.

Perhaps there is something to that scientifically speaking…Perhaps because our subconscious mind knows no inhibitions nor any doubts, what comes from these sleep-starved states is more pure and real than what we can plan in our wake states. Perhaps also it is because our conscious editor is not active in our sub-conscious self. We are only creative and instinctual creatures in this raw, sub-conscious state. Perhaps writers are all just lucid dreamers more in touch with listening to our subconscious selves. Perhaps we need to not fight our subconscious creative instincts with our conscious plans.

For me, as much as I can plan a story or plot a pathway on a map for my characters, rarely does my story or my characters stay on the path. I tend to always “colour outside the lines” and my best writing comes from these early morning wrestlings with my Muse. Funnily enough new stories always arrive when I am busy with another story. They never wait their turn. But then again I will take that over “searching and not finding” inspiration any day.

So on second thought I won’t send a complaint to the Sandman for missing my address yet again. Instead I am thankful for wrestling with my muse whether it be at pre-dawn or post-sunrise. I know the real problems will start when I am no longer being dragged from my sleep to write down that fleeting piece of inspiration, that one of a kind sentence or that crucial scene.

>>What about you? Are you often dragged out of sleep to write down that idea? How many ideas have you lost the tail end of because you rolled over and chose sleep over inspiration? Do your ideas for new stories wait their turns for you to finish the current WIP? Are we just slaves to our inspiration and creativity? Well as long as my inspiration / creativity / imagination/ sub-conscious / Muse keeps my notepad full of ideas and my stories full of new scenes than I am happy to be a slave to it. Anyway…I can sleep when I am dead.<<

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”
― Ray Bradbury