Miranda Kenneally

Mexican Food Cures Writer's Block

When Writing, Do You Trust Your First Instincts?

My 7th grade science teacher once told me, “Miranda, a human being’s first instinct is correct 90% of the time. If you’re going to deviate from your first instinct, you’d better have a good reason why you should.”

Disclaimer: I have no idea if this is hard science or what, but I live by it 🙂 — especially when writing, especially when considering comments from beta readers.

When I send out a first draft (or portions of a first draft) to beta readers, I’m always open-minded when comments start coming back to me, but before I consider implementing any suggested changes – I have to remind myself to think about why I wrote what I did in the first place.

It’s very normal to feel silly or dumb after hearing comments, and immediately feel like you need to rush to do exactly what that person says — But you’ve also got to remember that you’re smart, too, and you wrote what you did for a reason.

Here’s an example:

My first book was this YA dystopian government thriller thing, and it was supposed to be dark and upsetting in the first two chapters, but then things get better for the main character (cause he fights the system).

I listened when one beta reader told me that the book would never sell, as it was “too dark for kids.”  So I changed the beginning to be jokey and silly, so as not to alienate the audience from the beginning.

So what went wrong?

This beginning didn’t jive with the rest of the book, that’s what!

I should’ve trusted myself, I should’ve stopped to consider what the book was about (good beating evil).

On the other hand, the same beta reader suggested I lower the main character’s age, and after careful consideration, I realized it was the best thing to do.

In short, I think you should carefully consider every comment a beta reader has, and then pick and choose what advice to take. Because you’re smart too!

When I beta read books for people, I try to concentrate on pacing and whether or not I “buy” the premise and/or characters’ actions, and I always try to spend a great deal of time thinking, “Why did the author do this? Why is the main character the way he/she is?”

I do this because I trust the author knows what he/she is doing – I make sure I have a damned good reason before questioning an author on anything.

How do you beta read? Do you give the author the benefit of the doubt, or do you dive right in and analyze everything? Changing things? Looking for plot holes?

As a writer, what’s most helpful to you?

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Comments (3)

3 Responses to “When Writing, Do You Trust Your First Instincts?”

  1. alyslinn says:

    When I beta, I tend to read the material through once as a regular reader, to get the overall picture and feel of the story. Only after I’ve done that do I go back again and read as more of an analyst.

    As a writer, I like my beta readers to be honest, and come out and tell me what is and isn’t working. (Pointing out overuse of certain words/descriptions, etc. is also much appreciated.)

  2. Sarah says:

    This is great advise! I need to start trusting my first instinct more.

  3. I loved this post. Because it’s so true — often, your first instinct is right with stories. But every now and then, a crit partner says something like “do you really need this first chapter?” And you look at your manuscript and you’re like WHOA. And there’s a revolution.

    Other times someone says “your main character isn’t likeable,” but you love your mc and others identify with her, so you just have to maybe tweak a few things, instead of doing an overhaul.

    When I do a full critique on an ms, I read the whole thing. I fix typos and do line-edits, but I also ask questions. Why isn’t this character introduced earlier? What if character A did X? Did you really have to cliffhang me so hardcore ps I hate you whyyyyy?! And such.

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