Basic Instinct – friend or foe?

This weeks Novel Points of View Blog; this week from Vicky Cornwall.

Instinct: the way people or animals naturally react or behave, without having to think or learn about itCambridge Dictionary
I read somewhere once that instinct is a subconscious lesson learned which surface to keep you from making the same mistakes. I know, from experience, that instinct plays a large role in our day to day lives. It can be helpful, it can be protective, but it can also be crippling. Perhaps I should add a disclaimer here – I am not a mental health professional, just a writer musing on life in general and with a blog post to fill. I am also vaguely familiar that there are many categories of instinct such as herd instinct. I am going to concentrate on that internal gut voice that inwardly communicates with you when you didn’t ask it to. Now back go my blog post…
What has instinct got to do with creativity?  

There have been many times when I have been writing a scene and my instinct kicks in. I have a growing sensation that the scene is not going in the right direction. I know, instinctively, that I need a little more passion or a twist to add more energy to the plot. I did not plan the plot this way, but as I write my instinct tells me that this chapter just isn’t right. I have never taken a creative writing course in my life, so it is not a lesson I have learned, but I know where I subconsciously acquired this instinct and it began on the day that I picked up my first novel to read.

It developed gradually, but mainly during my negative reading experiences when I have grown to dislike the hero or heroine, the plot direction or how the book is written. I have wasted countless hours reading a book I dislike just so I can finish it (I can’t give up on a book, I have to finish it).  This is a good example of turning a bad experience to good use.

However, in my opinion, if negative experiences can develop an instinct that can be used in a positive way, negative experiences can also develop an instinct that, although trying to be protective, can have negative outcomes. For example, if you have received several rejections for your manuscript, your instinct might be to not submit the manuscript again. You have subconsciously learned rejection is painful and that you are not good enough to get published so why bother and be hurt again. This instinct is protecting you from future hurt and rejection… but I am not sure this instinct is always a good instinct to follow.  People say that every journey is made of small steps and that failure is a path to success. Sounds daunting and not much fun to tread.

It is not always easy to fight against our instincts. It is not always easy to know when to fight against them or when to follow them. I guess all we can do is consider the possible outcome and ask ourselves this question… will this situation put me in harm’s way? If it won’t, than perhaps we should question why our instinct is telling us to flee/reject/avoid/ignore and is there anything we can do to improve the outcome and be braver/more adventurous/more determined. 
Every event is a learning experience and can be positive and negative. Your instinct is there to help you and we must learn to let it help us… but we must also learn to not let it control us. After all, changing our thoughts and how we deal with our negative experiences could change our lives for the better.

Victoria Cornwall
What are your thoughts on instinct? Can you think of a circumstance when it has helped or hindered you? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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