“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” –Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

With every story we write, every drop of ink, every key pressed in a frenzy of typing, we are becoming better writers. Over the last year, I can feel how I’ve grown, how I’ve stretched and challenged myself, how discovering solutions to complex story issues has made me a better writer. Every story teaches us something.

For me, one of those recent lessons has been to listen to my writer’s intuition. I don’t mean our inner critic, although she has her time and her place. I mean that feeling in our gut that tells us when we’ve veered off course, when we’re taking the story in the wrong direction, when our characters aren’t behaving like we’d expect them to, etc.

photo by Catie Rhodes, WANA Commons
photo by Catie Rhodes, WANA Commons

In a recent draft, I became so focused on getting words on the page and finishing the story that I ignored that voice. The result? My revision of that story will almost be a full rewrite—because I didn’t listen to that voice and go back to where I started and start over. I don’t mean the critical voice that says, “This sucks.” I mean that small, quiet voice that whispers, “This isn’t right.”

If the story has zigged when it should have zagged, I need to go back to the place where I took that wrong direction and correct course. Otherwise, I risk writing a story that needs a page-one rewrite—beyond the normal revisions a story needs.

Part of this is understanding my process better. I need to solidify those first few chapters before I dig into the rest of the story. This could mean I write the first chapter three times before I feel that I’ve established a solid foundation. I need to do that so I know the rest of the story. That’s just my process.

I don’t regret the mistakes I made with that recent manuscript. Though I’m taking a break from it so I can return to it with much-needed distance, I think about those characters and that world daily, and each day they reveal a little more to me. A will-o-the-wisp haunting a forest full of bluebells. A character dabbling at her watercolors. A cat, a witch’s familiar, rubbing against a character’s denim-clad legs. Good writing is good listening.

Before, in my rush, I wasn’t listening, and the story suffered. But it’s live and learn. And the lesson I’ve learned is that an important tool in our writer’s toolbox is letting that voice that whispers guide us, telling us when we’ve veered from the story’s true path. In short, we need to listen—to our writer’s instincts, but also to our characters, to their worlds and to the world around us. Because it’s in the howling of the wind and the night’s creeping shadows that horror stories find their way into this world. It’s a view of the mist-shrouded mountains that calls an epic fantasy into existence.

We have to listen to our writer’s instincts. We have to listen to our characters. And we have to listen to this world we live in if we are to make our stories come alive.

Lastly, my Sunday ROW80 check-in…

Writing goals

1.) Make measurable progress on one of my WIPs. Revised the first chapter in “The Phoenix Feather.” Did some world-building for that story. Revised the first chapter of “Made of Shadows.”

2.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing. 1/2. Began reading “How to Market a Book” by Joanna Penn.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Goal met.

2.) Blog twice a week. Goal met.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. Goal met.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week. 0/3.

2.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. Met for 4 of 5 days.

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A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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