|Are you heading in the wrong direction?|
Every writer I've met has that inner voice that guides them when they write their stories. My best bud calls this the "writer's compass," the thing that tells you if you're on the right track or not. Most of the time we listen to it, but once in a while (especially in the early stages of revisions) we ignore it. Or we hear it, don't trust it, and seek outside confirmation. How often have you seen someone ask, "Does this sound like the right thing to do here?" (Heck, or asked that yourself. I know I have.)
There's nothing wrong with this, it's how we learn and how we improve our books. But one of the things we also need to learn is to trust that writer's compass, trust our instincts, because they usually know what they're talking about.
Especially during revisions.
After that first draft is done, we (usually) have a much better understanding of how the story has unfolded and what we want to do with it. It's when we really start digging in and fleshing out the parts that work and stripping away the parts that don't. Even if we're not sure what to do with something, there's often that nagging ambiguous sense of what we need to do.
Take me for example.
I knew on the first draft of Blue Fire that there were certain problems, because my compass was pointing right at them and yelling "DANGER! DANGER!" But I ignored it, because I was nervous about writing my second book and freaking out over it (which is totally normal). When I turned it over to my crit group, and they told me exactly what my compass had been saying all along. Had I listened, I could have avoided those mistakes.
So I cut out half the book out and rewrote it. There were still things bugging me though. My compass was poking me, saying "You're not done, doofus" (my compass can be rude), but I ignored it again. (Yeah, I know, what was I thinking? No wonder it's rude to me). I'd dealt with the issues, but I still had that nagging feeling I hadn't done enough and that pieces were still missing.
Back to the crit group, and sure enough...they told me what I already knew, but was afraid to trust.
I went back to the basics, re-outlined my whole novel, and this time, followed my writer's compass. If it didn't feel right, I didn't rationalize "Oh, you're just second guessing yourself cause you're a big wussy and freaking out over your sophomore novel." I kept fiddling until I figured out what was wrong and then I plotted and planned until it felt right.
Before this "second book" experience, I'd always been good at trusting my instincts, but being on the pro field tossed a lodestone onto my compass. I've gotten past it now (thankfully) and when I think something is off, something is off. Every time I get into trouble with a manuscript, it's because I don't listen to that rude little voice.
Don't be afraid to try something just to see if it works. Don't be afraid to do what your gut tells you to do. Sometimes it'll be off base (hey, it happens), but odds are you'll learn or discover something on that sidetrack that's just what you needed to make the book work out how you want. Your instincts were sending you in the right direction, even though it took a few wrong turns to get there.
Trust your instincts. Follow your writer's compass. They may take you on the scenic route, but they won't lead you astray.
Do you listen to your writer's compass? Have you ever ignored it and wished you'd listened? Has it ever led you the wrong way?
Other articles along these lines:
Putting the Con in Confidence
Execution vs Idea: Which Comes First?
Mentally Preparing for Revisions
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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