How To Quickly Know If It Is Fear Or Instinct Driving You

Just yesterday one of my editorial writers corresponded when she received her edited manuscript and critique.  That’s always a bit overwhelming for writers, but she said the magic words: “I hear what you’re saying about this one chapter, but my gut instinct is I need it.”

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And my response was, “Absolutely follow your gut instinct!” 

The chapter needs reworking and she understood that.  Something required for the storyline.  But it didn’t come across on the page.

The point being, although the essence got lost in translation, deep inside she knew the book needed it.

And that sort of intuition is never ever wrong.

The trick is of course in any situation, especially creative endeavors, to actually be able to discern between that instinct and fear.  Because they can sure feel similar at times.

Once you get the hang of the process though, this becomes easier and easier to do.

Fear always comes across as a loud voice.  It’s the one that screams at you right off the bat to run this way or that.  Go do something!  And stress hormones accompany it—the kind that causes your heart to race, your nerves to tingle.  The old fight-or-flight response.

The voice of intuition whispers in the quiet recesses of your mind.  It settles in your solar plexus (thus, the “gut” instinct).   And it doesn’t go away. 

Fear belongs to the ego.  For writers, it manifests as resistance to change.  “I don’t want to ax that passage!  Some of my most beautiful prose is there.”

We hear this all the time 🙂

Takes courage to be a writer.  You do have to be willing and able to kill your babies.  And fear will surely scream loudly that doing so would be wrong!

But as in this and any situation, a way exists to sort through the differences between fear and gut instinct.

Do these 3 things:

  1. Take a deep breath.

Calm all of those racing (and redundant) thoughts.  Still your mind, just for a bit.  Otherwise fear will manifest in myriad ways to keep you from being able to hear the wisdom within.

  1. Take stock of your physical reactions.

Is your heart racing?

Is your mind still trying to whirl?

Are you ready to jump out of your skin?

If so, then you have fear snarling in your ear.  May mean that you do have something to be afraid of here, although this is not the time to make decisions!

But if you’ve calmed down and the voice is quieter, if you’re “hearing” in whispers, then by all means—listen . . .

  1. Is the sentiment persistent?

With writing especially, if a nagging sense that something needs changing persists, then it does.

Often writers say to me things such as, “I keep thinking I need to add a scene about . . .”  Or, “I just know in my gut this character holds more importance to the story than I’m giving him.”  Or any variety on the theme.

And if that’s the case, then it truly is your intuition guiding you through the dark waters. Listen to it and act.

We’ve used writing as the example here (since that’s where I am all day every day :)), but this method works with anything, from deciding whether to go on that blind date to taking a job across the country.  Your intuition, that gut instinct, knows the answer.

Within everyone lives an all-knowing wisdom, a deep instinct that will always steer you in the direction best for you.  Beneath the monkey-mind ego, beneath all of the fears and hopes and dreams and sorrows, lives this wonderful guidance system, whispering to be heard. 

Listen closely.  And follow.

As Albert Einstein said, The only real valuable thing is intuition.

 

About the Author Susan Malone

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.

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18 comments
Jessica says November 12, 2015

Great points. I always say follow your mama instinct. It’s there for a reason.

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    Susan Malone says November 12, 2015

    Absolutely, Jessica! It is there for a reason–and always steers you right 🙂

    Reply
Julie Syl Kalungi says November 12, 2015

Sometimes Fear is also our Gut instinct warning us of danger.

BUT On average fear is just that Loud voice as you put it Susan, Shouting out for attention, delivering nothing but hard lessons for not taking the chances we could to live the life we dream of.

Its said Fear is the Flip side of Faith. I agree

Reply
    Susan Malone says November 12, 2015

    I agree 100%, Julie! Sometimes fear really IS a gut instinct.
    I love Fear being the Flip side of Faith! Beautifully put.

    Reply
Colleen M. Story says November 12, 2015

Great advice, Susan. So true. I’ve had the experience of having an intuitive sense confirmed with an editor several times. Thanks for the reminder to trust that little voice!

Reply
    Susan Malone says November 12, 2015

    Isn’t it just wonderful how that works, Colleen! I suspect you follow that intuitive voice a lot 🙂

    Reply
Dorothy Sander (@AgingAbundantly) says November 12, 2015

Love this! It’s a concept I’ve thought a whole lot about in regular life, but it’s harder for me to apply it to writing. And it’s where I am right now! Unadulterated terror over writing from the deepest part of me – the only place that makes any from which to write. Thank you. You’re a keeper in my world!

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    Susan Malone says November 12, 2015

    I do understand, Dorothy! Nothing causes us to question more than our writing. As I often say, we’re not talking about bread dough here, but our very souls . . . Makes it tougher to trust sometimes!
    But the terror is good–it tells us we’re near our truth 🙂

    Reply
Orli says November 12, 2015

I always thought fear comes in two different ways – the fear that hinders and the fear that moves you. Sometimes doing things because you are afraid of what will happen if you won’t is not such a bad thing. But most of the times you do have to look in the mirror and ask yourself – am I letting my fears drive me? And the answer shouldn’t be yes. Loved your post and so happy I read it.

Reply
    Susan Malone says November 12, 2015

    I love that, Orli–the fear that hinders and the fear that moves you. Beautiful take on this!

    Reply
Saidah Washington says November 13, 2015

Theres a lot of insightful tips here. I haven’t always been right when following my gut, but I definitely don’t ignore it.

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Brittany Bly says November 13, 2015

Some of these comments are really amazing. Glad to hear everyone’s thoughts on this subject.

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    Susan Malone says November 17, 2015

    Don’t you just love everyone’s insight, Brittany! What a great group of comments and commentators!

    Reply
Stephanie says November 13, 2015

I think you should always listen to your gut instinct. When you learn to listen, you’ll see it’s rarely wrong. Great post!

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    Susan Malone says November 17, 2015

    That gut instinct is always there, Stephanie. And you’re so right–it’s about the listening to it!

    Reply
Mhar Sefcik says November 14, 2015

In several occasions, instincts come to me and I don’t ignore it. Because it helps me in decision making also.

Reply
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