The Creative Hunch by Jennifer Niven

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.” — Frank Capra


Last year, I wrote my seventh book, American Blonde. I had originally handed the book in to my publisher in the fall of 2012, and by the time I received my editor’s notes months later, I had decided to re-envision and re-outline and, for the most part, rewrite the entire book from about page 15 on, which means I had to throw out around 600 pages of material.

While my editor did have lots of notes, rewriting the book wasn’t one of them. That was all me.

I had three months to do this, and it was – let me think of the polite word – challenging. The easier thing would have been to implement her notes and some of my own, cut and rewrite here and there, work on one of the characters who needed working on, and maybe move some scenes around or re-envision small sections. But that would have been cheating Velva Jean (a character I had written about in previous books, and thus invested a lot of time, energy, and myself in) and American Blonde and, ultimately, myself.

Because I knew, deep in my creative bones, the story I wanted to tell in that book. The story I should tell. The story that was more organic to Velva Jean and her journey and the setting she found herself in. It was the story I almost wrote when I was working on the book for the first time, but ended up putting aside for one reason or another, mostly time constraints– I just didn’t feel I had enough time to do that original story justice in the short period I had to write it.

The lesson: Always, always listen to your first instinct. This is something I’ve learned time and again. Usually I listen. This time I didn’t. And so I was faced with having less time than I had that first go-round to come up with, essentially, a brand new book.  But it had to be done.

If I didn’t rewrite it, maybe no one would have known. Maybe they would have even enjoyed the story as I wrote it in the fall of 2012. But I would have known. And every time I picked up that book, I would think of what it could have, should have been.

So the next time you have a creative instinct, listen to it, try it out, sit with it for a while, let it simmer, see if it flourishes. Honor it.  That particular idea may not be something you need to follow all the way to the end. But then again, it may be exactly where your story wants to go.

It’s funny how stories let you know the way they want to be told.

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