To me, career advice like “follow your heart” and “go with your gut” feels empty and generalized and extremely unhelpful.
It’s what people say when they want to appear supportive but don’t actually have any valuable wisdom to offer.
All it really means, after all, is “Do what you feel is right. Go where you feel led.” Etcetera.
I can guess with confidence that you’ve had this kind of advice tossed your way when thinking about how you want to spend your time and effort as a creative professional. Especially when seeking support from a friend or family member who does not write, has never seriously written, and therefore just can’t fully understand the weight of the decisions that often accompany a career in writing.
We still love those people — they just don’t get it. Not their fault. They mean well.
But what is it, really, that we want to hear in these moments? If we can’t accept the generic “follow your heart,” what’s instead going to be the thing that helps us choose between career paths, or story ideas, or creative projects?
Maybe the advice itself isn’t actually the problem. Maybe it frustrates you because, as you’re wont to do, you’re letting yourself over-complicate something the universe has already simplified for you.
Now, I’m a big supporter of pro/con lists and risk assessments. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to analyze your options thoroughly until you come to a decision that best suits you and your future.
But if you find yourself at a crossroads, and you stop for a moment and really pay attention to your mental and physical self, you might be able to choose right there on the spot.
Because in reality, your first instinct — the thing that might make your head spin but fills your chest with a sense of peace unlike you’ve ever felt before — that’s often the right choice.
People don’t trust themselves. Especially creative people. In formal educational settings we’re taught that we have to think logically about everything — which, let’s be honest, isn’t a terrible thing to learn. The problem is, we’re trained to restrain our instinctive creativity. Not to say that STEM isn’t important — it is. A lot of us just end up graduating afraid to trust our guts.
We’re afraid to be wrong. We’re afraid we’ll mess up.
But let me ask you this. Would you rather fall flat on your face knowing you tried — or realize too late you’ve missed a chance you can never get back?
Writers have to take risks. You can’t play it safe in the publishing world. The only people who ever succeed are those who remove their own restraints and dare to try.
If there’s something in your professional life you’re wrestling with — if it’s between the path that goes left and the one that goes right — don’t doubt the certainty of your own instinct. There may not be a right or wrong choice. But there could be a good choice and a better one.
Weigh the options. Compare the benefits and risks. Make as many pro/con lists as you feel you need to.
But above all, do what everyone’s telling you to do — whether you want to hear it or not.
Follow your heart. Go with your gut.
It may feel empty and generalized and extremely helpful.
But it might be some of the simplest, most effective writing advice you’ll ever receive.
Simple, after all, isn’t always bad.
You’re overthinking this too much.
You know what the best decision is for you. All you have to do is confirm it — and move forward.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.