Trusting Instincts

The first book I wrote, last November, was a project I loved. It had complex plotlines and amazing characters and magic and darkness. But it was my first book. I’d been saying that I wanted to be a writer for a long time, many years, but even though I wrote a little bit every year, I’d never finished anything—I was worried that I wasn’t a “real” writer. But by the time November rolled around, I’d made this bold declaration. I told people I was going to write a novel, but I felt completely out of my depth. I had goals, I had spreadsheets, I had a plan. I had a very brief, very terrible outline. I had passion, a deliciously scented candle, and all the tea. But what I didn’t have was confidence.

I asked for help, which I thought was a good thing, but I asked for so much help that the story stopped being mine. My best friends are incredible—they were one million percent there for me, holding my hand through every single freak out. But all that did was inject their voice into my story. I was relying way too much on the people in my life, on writing blogs, on worksheets and formulas. Halfway through December it became painfully obvious that the story I wrote wasn’t the story I set out to tell. I had to put it away, most likely forever.

So when I started my second book, I promised that I would trust myself more. I had only one voice in my head: me. But it was a guided me. Maddy was there every step of the way, reading the chapters as I wrote them. I could get immediate feedback on what was and wasn’t working, and we could talk things through, but only after I’d written at least one version of it. It wasn’t a perfect story. Hell, it wasn’t even a good story. But it was mine. And I knew with a lot of time and a LOT of revisions it could be something good.

As some of you might know, revisions on that book have been kind of a nightmare for me the last few months. Since I came back from Europe in May, I’ve been struggling to get into the right mindset, and despite trying all the things I usually do to connect with my work nothing worked. I was miserable and unfocused and I’d spend hours and hours sitting in front of a blank screen and write nothing. Or worse, I’d force myself to write stuff just to feel productive only to realize that whatever I wrote had to ultimately be thrown out, not because it was badly written, but because I knew in my gut it wasn’t the right direction to take the story. I needed space to figure out what was happening, and more importantly, how to fix it.

So like any semi-obsessive person, I made a list of the pros and cons of taking a break from the story. It’s a luxury to be able to step away from a project without repercussions, but I was worried I’d get too complacent. It felt like I was giving up. But after just a few hours of clearing my head it was easy to see that the pros outweighed the cons: if I didn’t stop, I was going to burn out on a story I loved a lot.

So I trusted my gut again and decided I wasn’t going to touch this book for the entire month of September. And as luck would have it, I got the opportunity to work on a Super Cool, Super Secret project just days after I made that decision. It was perfect—I could spend three weeks working on that before diving back into revisions October 1st. But while making that leap from overworking myself to taking a break required me to trust myself to step away from a project, this new project had me struggling to trust my instincts in completely new ways.

Because this was a Super Cool, Super Secret project, I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. And I mean anyone. Not my family, not my friends, not my critique partners. One of the biggest lessons I learned in the last year was how valuable critique partners are. They are the people I depend on for everything, whether its brainstorming ideas, ranting about writing life, or just plain nerding out over books. They are the first (and sometimes only) people to see anything I write. And for the first time I couldn’t show them my work or run potential ideas past them. I had to do it on my own.

I was writing without having any idea if what I was writing was actually any good. I couldn’t tell if the pacing was tight, if the emotional beats were falling correctly, if the scene was easy to visualize or if the characters had enough voice. I had to figure out which scenes to keep and delete, which interactions were meaningful. And it was terrifying and stressful and new but it was also oddly liberating. Raw, unfiltered Akshaya.

Which got me thinking… maybe the pages did turn out as bad as I worried they’d be—and maybe that’s okay. But maybe it’s more than that. I knew from the start that the Super Cool, Super Secret project was hovering at the edge of my comfort zone in more ways than one. It was going to push me creatively, sure, but maybe it was also a chance to take another leap of faith and step away from my security blanket.

This Super Cool, Super Secret project is an opportunity that could open doors, sure, but it’s by no means the only opportunity. But I’m choosing to see it not as an opportunity to further my career but rather an opportunity to further myself. I love having the support of my writer friends, but it’s easy to rely on them too much, to turn to other people to help me figure out whether what I’m writing is any good. Instead I’m using this as a chance to remember to listen to my instincts on where to put my trust: in myself.

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