Behind the Scenes: Trusting the Gut Instinct When Writing

I do want to get back to character interviews, but the writing side of my life is nagging at me to write some posts and the characters are unusually quiet for the moment.  So, what the hey?  I’ll write more on writing.

While writing a book, I’ve noticed there is this odd thing that happens with every single book I write.  The character will say or do something that throws me off track.

Back when I started serious writing in my last year of college (1998), I never heard the word “outline” in relation to creative writing.  I just wrote from my gut. I’d start a story with no idea of where I was going. I’d just ask myself, “If I could do anything, what would I do?” and then I started chapter 1.

These days, I am more organized than this.  I have plot ideas, character types in mind, and settings laid out before I start the first chapter.  But I still have those moments when I’m writing a book where the characters are doing or saying something that makes absolutely no sense to me.  I always stop writing when this starts to happen.  I have to trust my gut instinct and keep writing.  I have the impulse to hit the delete key, but the thing is, somewhere further into the story, it’ll connect up.  I never know how or when, but it always does.  It’s one of the strangest things I’ve discovered in writing books.

And this makes me think of how simple trusting the gut instinct was when I was younger.  I simply went with it.  I didn’t question it or try to stop it.  I just thought, “I wonder what will happen next!” and kept writing.  My point to all of this is that sometimes the child has some degree of wisdom that an adult can learn from.

Quick side note: other things adults would be better off learning from children include not holding a grudge, being honest with yourself, not tolerating people who mistreat you, laughing often, spending time on things that you enjoy so you don’t get burned out with things you have to do, and (as a writer) having fun with writing the story instead of worrying about what the critics think.

Yesterday I was writing a scene for Isaac’s Decision where Emily (disguised as Elmer) is talking to Isaac about books.  (This is really a sneaky ploy of hers because she has to write an essay on a book that is not a dime novel and she’s trying to cheat by gathering information from Isaac on one of the books he’s read.  This will get her in trouble with the teacher in a roundabout way but will also get Isaac to talk to her as Emily so it does fit into the overall plot.)  So, I picked a book that was written in 1824 to research as I wrote the scene (I research as I go, not before I write a book; I’m too impatient to get to the fun part, which is writing).  The book was actually a psychological thriller about a guy who justified killing other people, but you’re left wondering if the stranger who tells him it’s right to kill the people is the devil or if this stranger is really someone this guy imagined in order to help justify his decision to kill others.  By the end of the book, this guy apparently is convinced he is not only justified in killing others, but he is actually doing the right thing in being a serial killer.  It really does sound like an interesting book, and if I could stand the prose, I’d read it.  But I’m not a fan of the way authors wrote back then because I find myself having to read sentences slowly or over and over them in order to understand what they heck they were saying.  I tried reading a sample of that book and my eyes glazed over.  Give me modern word usage over the historical any day of the week because it’s less work for me as a reader to decipher the historical way of wording things.  It’s like Shakespeare.  I get the modern translation.  It’s no wonder I write the way I do even if I do historicals.  The child within me prefers it this way.  😀

Oh, but anyway, I think the purpose to that book written in 1824 is how someone can make a decision and then rationalize it to the point where, if they’re wrong, they end up convincing themselves that they are right.  This might play into Dave Larson’s character who made the decision to not forgive Neil (or his family) for what Neil did in Eye of the Beholder.  Isaac, of course, will have his decision to make, which will be opposing his father’s command to not talk to Emily.  As we know, Isaac will elope with her.  Dave is going to be super pissed, and I think he’s going to have to justify his inability to forgive Neil and now his son.  So I think that 1824 book might actually be symbolic to what will happen with Dave.   Since I write romance, Dave and Isaac will resolve their differences, of course, but it’ll be interesting to see how that comes about.

*The book is The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg, in case anyone is interested.

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to other genres, but her first love is historical romance. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and a couple of children. To find out more about her books, go to
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Behind the Scenes: Trusting the Gut Instinct When Writing

  1. ha! Yes, I am interested! That sounds like an interesting read – I will have to look into it 🙂 I’m a fan of the 1800’s novels – in fact when I first started writing back in junior high that was what i read for the most part and emulated. Guess what? My teachers were not so enthusiastic and used to count off points for lots of stuff (like writing in dialect, using asides, run on sentences, etc etc.) I got into an “almost argument” (I’m a wimp, how confrontational could it really be?) with my English teacher and cited references of authors that did all those things, to which she said that they were “classic” authors and modern writers did not, nor was it acceptable, and that when I was published I could do what I wanted but until then I was in her class and would write after a modern style 😉

    as for following your gut, I know what you mean. I just finished up the final edits on the third book and I kept finding myself thinking about the reception more than the story itself. Like “Oh, I need a little something here” or “Oh, better add in a fight here or people will think it is too slow”. Makes me miss when I just wrote for me.

    • If you do read that book, let me know what you think. I’m on the fence about it. I mean, it is such a great idea, but I started reading it and my eyes glazed over because it’s been years (since high school) when I did read books from that time period. I used to get them at the used bookstore and read them for fun.

      LOL on the teachers, esp. the English one. Here the teachers lift up the classics as if they are the greatest thing on Earth but they discourage students to write that way. I’ll never understand that one.

      It is hard to follow our gut at times because (like you), I have that, “So and so is going to say this isn’t right or I could have done this other thing better.” It was easier to write when I didn’t have those thoughts running through my head. I find I have to block all that out and pretend no one else will ever read the book. Then I get done, publish it, and don’t check reviews. LOL

Comments are closed.