Friday, October 26, 2012

From the Gut

By Jeannie Watt

Have you ever gone into a restaurant, looked at a menu and knew immediately what you wanted...and then started to notice other stuff that also looked good? If so, and if you’re anything like me, you chose something other than your first impulse and often times regretted it. Especially if your significant other ordered what you'd originally wanted and it's better than what you ended up with. I’ve decided that, as far as menus go, I should stick with my first choice. If my first instinct is the French toast, I won't  order ham and eggs.

I’ve also found out—the hard way, the way I discover almost everything—that I need to follow my instinct when I write, too. One time when I got into deep trouble with a story, it was because I forced myself to follow the synopsis, even though my gut was yelling, “No, no…” I turned the book in and ended up rewriting it during revisions, because my instinct had been correct. Fortunately, my instinct had a pretty clear idea of what should have happened, so I was able to revise it successfully.

When I first started writing, I enjoyed following my gut and writing into the mist, but that was when I didn’t have a deadline. If I wrote myself into a corner, I had time to get myself back out. Now if I write myself into a corner, I’ll be staying up late getting myself back out. But after a period of being nuts about planning and sticking doggedly to my plan (in order to get the prescribed amount of sleep), I realized that it was okay to follow instinct. I had been afraid to go with the gut because of the aforementioned late nights if I made a mistake, but some of my best stuff seems to appear out of nowhere.

For instance, when I wrote my latest book, which I am now editing, I had a hero who was self absorbed in the beginning of the story. For reasons dating back to his childhood, he  needed to compete and he needed to win. Unfortunately, he’s suffered a potential career-ending injury that he’s in denial about. He’s deeply into himself, his comeback, his need to compete, at the expense of everything else, which doesn’t make him great hero material—unless of course he is redeemed.

In my plan, the heroine redeems him, but in chapter three he drives home after a confrontation with the heroine (who has his horse and won’t give it back) and  his cousin is parked in front of his house. (At this point I say to myself, really? His cousin’s there? Who’s his cousin?)

Come to find out, his cousin has helped him out in the past and now she needs someone to watch her teenage son while she takes a temporary job.

(I’m surprised at this turn of events and think, “A kid? Are you sure you want to write about a teen? I mean you spend almost every day around teens…”)

The teen stays in the story. He’s fourteen years old, kind of a character, and is used to hanging with adults. He’s totally comfortable with the hero, who is totally uncomfortable with him, but is now forced to think of someone besides himself. His world starts to open up because of this kid. He’s still focused on winning, but he’s also learning to enjoy other aspects of life. Because of his relationship with the kid, the heroine, who wasn’t a fan in the beginning, sees a different side of the hero and begins to realize that he’s a pretty good guy after all. None of this was in my synopsis, but it seems to be working.   

So...hurray for writing—and making menu decisions—from the gut.

How about you? Do plan or follow instinct? Or both, depending on the situation. I'll give a copy of my December book, Crossing Nevada, to a randomly selected postee. 


linda s said...

I think it is an old Yiddish saying: Man plans. God laughs.
When I was young I had a life plan. I wish I had written it down because it would be too funny reading it now. If I stay up late because I have no plans and don't need to get up early in the morning, sure enough, that's the morning dsil will bring the baby by at six AM because he has an emergency call at work.

Eli Yanti said...

I always make a plan before doing something :). Just don't want to do something wrong

Kate said...

Jeannie, your book sounds wonderful. I look forward to reading it. I'm a half & half kind of writer. I like to have a general idea where I'm headed but I don't have a problem with those lovely surprises that pop up as I write. Like you, some of my best storytelling emerges from those moments of grace.

Anonymous said...

Instinct. Because sometimes I get in my own way and my instinct lets me know about it.


kris said...

I plan obsessively - and then I get into whatever the situation is and realize I missed a crucial piece and I must go with my gut. Which I really, really don't like to do, but there ya go.

Kristina Mathews said...

This is exactly what I needed to hear. I've listened to well-meaning advice and it's taken my book so far off track, I don't know if I can get it back.

I've also tried to plan ahead on a new work and can't get past the 5th chapter.

And I can't wait for CROSSING NEVADA. Because my husband and I (now with kids in tow) cross Nevada at least once a year.

Cathryn Parry said...

Hi Jeannie! I follow a crazy mix of both. Veering between chaos and plan seems to be where I live these days. :-) P.S. I can't wait to read Crossing Nevada!

Unknown said...

I usually follow my first instict. I hate to second guess myself.. But that does not always work out for me, so I just go to a different plan.

BW said...

I try to plan but so often I make decisions from my gut.

Laney4 said...

I too plan, but not always in great detail. I like to leave room for unexpected changes.

I can definitely relate to ordering my second choice and my husband ordering my first choice, and then I wished I hadn't changed my mind. Don't do that anymore. Live and learn!

I "follow my instinct" when cooking too. Quite often I don't have all the ingredients noted, but I substitute a bunch of things (like corn syrup instead of honey) and "hope for the best". After all, what is the worst that can happen (as long as nobody dies, of course!)? That's how I came up with my own recipes for certain foods (and I am thrilled when others ask me for said recipes because they can't find them in recipe books)!

If I am writing a poem and start it one way, but then another way jumps out at me, I tend to follow through with both options and see where each lead me. Whichever one is more enjoyable to me is the poem I continue. Thankfully, my poetry is much shorter than writing a complete book, LOL!

EllenToo said...

I plan most of the time but there are times and places I follow my instinct and sometimes I'm glad I planned and other times I wish I had followed my instinct.

Snookie said...

Yes, I've done that very thing at restaurants!!! I write plans, scientific and compliance plans, so no going by the gut for me on any writing! BUT, I do go by the gut for everything else. I've found out too many times that plans have to be dynamic and going with your na'au (gut feeling) is the best way to go.

Jeannie Watt said...

Hey everyone--thanks for stopping by! When I picked this blog date, I had no idea that it was Nevada Day observed--the real Nevada Day is October 31--and that I would be off work and in Reno doing the "big shop". Well the big shop is over and I'm home. Finally.

Linda S.--I love that saying and I can commiserate with the early baby mornings. Great to have the baby, but a little sleep before hand would be grand.

Eli--How do your plans work out? Usually I plan and Linda's S.'s saying comes about. Sometimes though, the new turn of events starts a while new plan that works out even better.

Kate--"Moments of grace"--what a lovely way of putting it. Yes, some of the best stuff does show up that way and I so appreciate it.

Ah, Marcie--I really like that you realize that you get in your own way. You're ahead of the game if you know to follow your gut.

Kristina--I really enjoyed reading about your last Crossing of Nevada. You saw a lot of cool stuff. I still haven't seen the ichthyosaurs. As to the well meaning advice, I've both given and received same and know enough now to filter. But before, I didn't and it does get in the way sometimes.

Kris--You sound a lot like my partner in crime, Ellen. Planning obsessively and stuff like that. Hmmm.

Catherine--veering between chaos and planning sounds a lot like living in my house, lol.

Kathleen--I'm learning to follow my first instinct--but only after many decades of not doing that. Guess I'm a slow learner.

BW--a nice blend of planning and instinct will take you a long way--especially if you're attuned to when to listen to the gut.

Laney--I didn't know you were a poet! How neat. And I'm also very impressed about the instinctual cooking. I can't do that well. I've tried and it never works out for me. I guess a person either has the instinct for doing stuff like that with food or they don't. How cool that people ask for your recipes!

Ellen Too--are any of those wish-you'd-followed-your-instinct moments in restaurants? Because that's where a good deal of mine are.

Snookie--I have a feeling that you may plan, but you are also very in touch with everything going on around you and adjust accordingly. You strike me as a very organic person. (I think that's the word I want...)

Ellen Hartman said...

Jeannie--it sounds as if you are writing exactly the book I'm always dying to read. Follow your gut. Write faster.

As for me, I think I plan to reassure myself. If I have a plan, I can take the next step...which may be something not in the plan. It's as if I need a backup before I can move forward.

In restaurants, though, I always follow my first instinct. And my first instinct is OFTEN to get the French toast. :-)

Jeannie Watt said...

Hey Ellen--French toast rules! I always(!) follow that gut instinct now. The idea of having a plan as a base, so that you have something to come back to, is excellent.

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