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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Writer Intuition vs. Self Doubt

Having been working on my rewrite for some time, I've become very familiar with the evil voice of self-doubt. It's that nagging little annoyance, barely above a whisper (most times) that tries to convince you that you SUCK as a writer. No matter how many times I speak to successful authors and hear them say, "Oh yeah, that voice...yep, it never goes away," it still manages to kick me in the gut and make me feel bad. But what I wanted to talk about this week was the difference between knowing something is bad because your writerly intuition is telling you it is vs. thinking something is bad because that nasty little voice of self-doubt is convincing you it is.

And trust me...there is a difference.

I don't know where writerly intuition comes from: if it's learned and developed or if we're born with it, but like other forms of intuition, it's easy to ignore. What I've learned over the past little while is that ignoring it can be just as disastrous for your ms as it can be for other areas of your life.

What I know for certain is that I need to trust my gut a little more than I have been. Almost from the beginning I've had troubles rewriting the opening of my ms. Actually, that's not true, the opening was great (for a while) it was the chapter two/three slump that was dragging me down. I knew it was too much info dumping - I knew it dragged horribly and that it was really quite bad. I knew in my gut that it would have to go, I just avoided doing it for several versions of this ms. My reasons ranged from trying to please other people, to being too lazy (that's a tough one to admit), to just not knowing how to fix the problem.

Part of this writing journey I'm on is learning to do some hard things to my ms and after working on this rewrite - creating version after version, I've finally figured out not only how to fix the problem but how to do it in a way that strengthens my ms. So, I finally did it. I got rid of the troublesome two chapters - cut them right out like a moldy chunk on a piece of cheese. I must say - although it stung at first, it really was quite liberating.

Now when I read the newest version I'm not getting that pause/sinking feeling of writerly intuition saying "this is bad, this is bad". Instead I'm flowing through, without any snags, and it feels great! And that's how I know for certain that what I was hearing was not self-doubt blasting away my confidence but actually my instincts warning me that what I was doing was not working and needed fixing.

What about you all? Do you listen to your intuition? Have you had to make some hard cuts/decisions about your work?


  1. Angie - you are right, those 3 first chapters are great;)

    I never doubt my intuition, I think it's a great tool for writers to listen to it. And I am merciless about cutting my babies off, even if it hurts most of the time, it's always for the better -- I've actually wrote short stories with extra scenes from novels/screenplays.

    I think as a writer, your intuition is your best friend -- even if you fight with it, sometimes.

  2. Intuition can be a good thing but at other times, it can be the road in for the self doubt. I think the key is fixing the clunkiness but to continue going through the manuscript rather than working and reworking the same part.

  3. I think writers' intuition is naturally faulty. Otherwise, why would we always need to "kill our darlings"?

  4. My novel Senior Year Bites, used to be one or two chapters longer, but my wonderful beta reader Bookwyrm said... it would be stronger if you end it here. I resisted... said... but all those good words... then gave in cause she was right. Apparently the ending made my editor tear up a little.

    Yep, Bookie was right :) It was hard though.

    Good luck!

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