One of the greatest assets a writer has is his or her instinct. A writer knows when something isn’t working. This is different from self-doubt (“This sucks, who’s going to read this?”) – for me, self-doubt usually comes when I’m writing, and re-reading what I’ve written. Every writer has this – and if a writer doesn’t feel this way, well, either that person is the most confident writer who’s ever lived, or is extremely delusional. I’m betting on the latter.
No, instinct is something deeper. Instinct tells you when your story as a whole isn’t working.
For me, instinct came a few months ago when I was working on one of my stories. I planned it, plotted it meticulously. I know the direction of the story. I knew where things had to go. And it worked – for a while.
Then I hit a wall. I just…stopped writing. Stopped caring. No matter how hard I forced myself to continue, I just couldn’t. This wasn’t writer’s block – I knew what had to happen and where I was taking the story. Instead, I was distracted. Mostly, I kept thinking about other story ideas, other books. Instead of writing my book, I was making notes for this other story. Jotting down ideas. Drawing maps. I wasn’t obsessed with my book anymore.
Finally, after a couple of weeks of this, I gave up the pretense of bothering with my original story. I decided I was going to quit that story. Was it temporary, or was it permanent? I wasn’t sure yet, but I knew, on a fundamental level, that something about it wasn’t working, and so I had to set it aside, and forget about it.
I focused for a while on my new ideas, plotting and planning. My old idea had been unceremoniously shoved aside and I hardly gave it a second thought. I moved on. I kept working at my new idea, kept reading books, kept living my life.
Then something amazing happened. I read a book that is totally unrelated to that old story idea (“Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie), and somehow, that unlocked the ideas I needed to make my old story work. When I went back to it, I went back to it with fresh eyes and a fuller understanding of why it wasn’t working. With a few nifty tweaks and some new plot mechanisms, I was back in the saddle. I’ve been writing this book consistently now, and so far, it seems to be working better.
I still need to finish the damned thing, but the moral of the story is: trust your instinct. Sometimes a book won’t work for you, and your instincts will tell you long before your brain realizes it. Every person will have a different way of overcoming their problems – in this particular case, it was my giving up on the story (temporarily) that helped me get it back on track.
You are your own guide to your book, for better or for worse. Let your guide show you the way.