Sometimes Instinct Should Take Over the Story

Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Working with writers is a very fun job. I do it all day, every day. In my "day job", I am editing and proofreading for agricultural economic publications. For WOW! and my freelance business, I critique a lot of fiction--mostly novels. What I've come to learn through these experiences is that sometimes... we think too much.

We do not allow instinct to take over the story (or article or poem or blog post...).

What do I mean by this?

We all know the mechanics of writing--and many of us work endlessly to get our structures perfect. Examples of this would include: do I have a 3 act structure? What is my inciting incident? Is my meter correct? I'm not going to pretend like these characteristics of poetry and prose are not important or that if you don't eventually pay attention to them (or work on improving your craft), it doesn't matter. These issues do matter. These matter if you want to get published or receive raving reviews.

But the problem is that we become bogged down with structure and technicalities, and then completely overthink. This causes writer's block. This causes manuscripts to remain unfinished. This causes us to decide writing isn't "fun" anymore. And this is when you have to let your instinct take over.

You are a writer. You are a reader. You know what makes a good story because you've read something or probably several things that made you fall in love with words and want to create your own works of art. So when you find yourself bogged down by questions like: am I beginning in the right place? Is my repeating line strong enough in this villanelle? Do I have enough build up to my climax?


Especially if you have not finished your first draft.

Take a deep breath and remember those stories you love. Take one of your writing sessions and write down all the things you love about them. Here's what I do. I ask myself these questions:

  • Why have I read Harry Potter over and over again? 
  • Why do I buy everything J. K. Rowling writes about him? 
  • Why have I listened to the audio books and watched the movies? 
I need to remember what I love about these novels and how she drew me in, and then write my own work based on this joy I've felt. You can do the same with something you love.

I'm not saying that you should never worry about structure or tension or form or plot. You should. This is why you have a critique group, beta readers, instructors and editors. But if you find yourself in the trap of feeling like you aren't enjoying writing, then this could be why.

So trust your instinct. After all, it led you into this wonderful world of writing for some reason--don't fight it.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, writing coach and instructor, living in St. Louis, MO. To read more about her and her published work, check out her blog at  To sign up for her WOW! online novel writing class, check out this link. The next class begins on April 7. 

Instinct photo above by Jan on


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--You mean we are supposed to ENJOY what we're writing?


Oh. Now I get what I've been doing wrong all along. I thought it was supposed to be sheer drudgery from the opening line to when we type "the end."

Just kidding. In regards to my latest WIP, I am enjoying it. I like the story. I just need to get back to it.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Thanks, Margo! I needed to hear this. :) It's exactly what happened to me and now I'm getting back to the fun of writing. I think when writers think too far down the line about getting published while they're writing it can cause overwhelm.

Sheila Good said...

Thank you Margo, this is exactly where I find myself. Sometimes all of the how-to's are overwhelming. I needed the encouragement. @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Instinct is a wonderful topic. I'm so glad to see someone writing about this. Thanks, Margo. It plays such a big part in knowing what works and what doesn't.

Mary Horner said...

When I'm reading something that moves me, it also works to inspire me to get back to my writing. It make me want to try harder!

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