Can you trust your gut?

I’ve seen that phrase thrown around lately, and I’m truly wondering – can we trust our gut when making decisions?

With some decisions, I trust my gut all the time. And it’s rarely wrong. For example, when the kids are tucked into their beds all cozy and asleep and a platter of homemade chocolate chip cookies lay on the counter…

Or when a book comes out with an awesome cover and a blurb to die for…

Or when a squirrel is running away with my wicker furniture filling in its mouth and I’m holding a BB gun… (What? Okay, scratch that. I’d never injure a cute little rodent.) (I’d get my husband.) (Okay, this has never happened because red squirrels are way too smart and know to steal when no one is looking.)

You get the point. What about when deciding which agents to query? What about deciding which agent to sign with – if you have options? What about when choosing your publishing path?

It’s so easy to read an agent’s information on Literary Rambles and then see his/her smiling face on the Twitter avatar and just know he/she is the one for you. For some writers this works out and maybe it was their gut. Or not.

Let’s take a closer look at guts. Is the gall bladder, intestinal tracts, and liver somehow connected to the decision making part of your brain?

Or do we convince ourselves of things because of a first impression?

Or is it just a feeling based on something we can’t quite define?

Just opening the floor up. How often do you base decisions on your gut feelings? Do you trust what your body is telling you?

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41 Responses to Can you trust your gut?

  1. anne gallagher September 9, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Absolutely I trust my gut, first impression, whatever you want to call it, because the second I don’t, and take a different path, the whole world falls apart. I always trust my gut.

  2. Tab September 9, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    I trust my gut, but I always consult my brain. If the two don’t agree the gut wins. I am seldom sorry about it 🙂

  3. Laura Marcella September 9, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    I haven’t had to make any kind of agent decisions yet, but I will trust my gut when that happens. The older I get, the more I realize that I really do know what’s best for me!

  4. Sheri Larsen September 9, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Great question. Hmmm…I think I’m like you. There are some things in life I just ‘know’ are right or wrong, for me or not for me. In this writing game, though, it’s hard to always feel my gut. At times I think I do and then another writer says something to me and I begin to question myself. I think ‘the gut’ has a lot to do with our inner confidence and how comfortable we are with ourselves.

  5. Andrea September 9, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I trust myself when I make decisions, whether I base my decision on a long thought process or how I feel at the moment. But I don’t think it’s possible to make mistakes, because you learn from everything. (Even though I do admit I replay events in my mind, thinking about what else I could have done, especially when I haven’t mulled over a decision for hours).

  6. christine danek September 9, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I’m learning that I have to trust my gut more often. I tend to rely on what others say not what I think should be right. Lately, I need to follow what my gut says, because I notice when I do, it’s right. I’m not sure how all of it works though.

  7. Matthew MacNish September 9, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    In general I’m pretty instinctive, and do trust my intuition in day to day decisions, but I think finding and selecting an agent is a little to important to just go with a gut feeling.

  8. Creepy Query Girl September 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    I do believe in following your gut BUT I also believe that you shouldn’t do so impulsively. Say two agents wanted to offer representation. One agent I liked right away- their blog or personality or past books or whatever. The second agent has a fantastic track record and is well known in the INDUSTRY but not so well known in the blog world. Before making a decision, I would take a really close look at both agents- their sales, talk to their clients, etc…Just because their personalities are attractive doesn’t mean they’re the best person to handle your career.

  9. Stina Lindenblatt September 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    I trust my gut instinct. It’s helped me when figuring out which comments to listen to in critiques (and which to ignore). It told me when I got The Call that the agent wasn’t right for me. But my gut instinct is partly due to experience and partly the result of research. When my beta reader suggested I restructure my novel, my gut told me she was right, because I had read the same book on the topic that she had. And I knew she knew what she was talking about, because I’d read all her awesome posts on the topic. Gut instinct told me to listen to her. 🙂

  10. Angela Felsted September 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Usually I trust my gut, but with an agent you’ve never met, yes–it’s hard. Because you really don’t know them. How could you?

    • Laura September 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

      Thanks everyone. The reason I brought it up is b/c an industry professional commented on following your gut and it got me thinking. I used to think certain agents were my dream agents – based on gut – but in the long run I’ve realized they aren’t. I don’t think we really can tell which agents are good for us until we know more facts and have talked to him/her or talked to clients – then we can go on what seems right. But gut means nothing if it’s not backed by facts – at least for me.

      And when I’m going in the wrong direction, I think I get down and discouraged and don’t even know why!

  11. Kelly Polark September 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    I do trust my gut much of the time, especially with decisions affecting my family. With writing, I try to, but I’m more of a follow the rules type of person. And I still have so much to learn about the industry, I’m not sure if my gut would be right! I try to do what my head and my heart says. A combo effort. 🙂

  12. Heather Sunseri September 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    I trust my gut except when I question everything it’s telling me. 🙂

  13. Susan Sipal September 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    “Is the gall bladder, intestinal tracts, and liver somehow connected to the decision making part of your brain?”

    Laura, thanks so much for bringing laughter to my morning!

    You ask a very good question, and whereas most often trusting my gut has led me to the best things in life, there are definitely some murky areas. I now believe that the gut should be reinforced with the brain.

    • Laura September 9, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

      So without enough information and research our gut could be wrong? But isn’t intuition something that is not based on information? I just know that sometimes my dreams and goals alter my perception of the truth to the point where I convince myself of something. And that’s not always a good thing.

  14. Elana Johnson September 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    I trust how I feel about things. The problem is, sometimes we allow ourselves to confuse what we WANT with what we truly FEEL.

    For example, I just *knew* a particular agent was right for me. We were friendly, she’d read not one, but two of my manuscripts, and we’d done a few things online together.

    I thought for sure, all the way, she was my agent. Uh…she wasn’t. She liked my writing, but not my book. And ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. It doesn’t matter if you’re friends or happy-happy joy-joy on twitter, or anything else.

    They have to love your book.

    And when you find that person, and you talk to them, and their enthusiasm comes through the phone lines… That’s when your KNOWLEDGE becomes in harmony with your FEELINGS.

    I think people get hung up on a “dream agent” when really it’s just confusion between what they want and what they feel.

    Or maybe that’s just me…

    In other things, though, like when I know my query letter is ready, or when I know my draft is as polished as I can get it, yes, it’s all gut. I’ve learned over the course of years what it FEELS like, and I go with that.

  15. Angelina C. Hansen September 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    As a person who tends toward impulsivity, I try to analyze before I go with the gut. Though I do trust my intuition, stepping back and waiting a day or longer helps me gain a clearer view.

  16. Christina Lee September 9, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Hey there–good question!

    I absolutely know I DID NOT trust my gut (that nagging feeling I got and now recognize very well) with my first agent!

    And I no longer believe in “dream agents”. Someone can sound good on paper (or Twitter), but much like dating, you won’t know what your chemistry together is until you talk and see if all points connect.

    I DO think I recognize my gut feelings more when I’m wrong than right about something though–eek!

  17. Ava Jae September 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    I agree with what tab said: “I trust my gut, but I always consult my brain.” That’s exactly the way I handle it.

    Gut feelings are good and often point you in the right general direction, but don’t ignore what you’re head is telling you, either.

  18. Loree Huebner September 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    I don’t have a gallbladder anymore 😀

    I do trust my gut. I’ve learned from it.

    Many times before, I’ve gone forward when my gut was saying, “Whoaa!” I’ve learned from those episodes.

    I think that deep down, we really know the right answers or correct directions. It’s just that our heads and hearts don’t always agree with our guts.

    • Laura September 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

      I”m hearing you all. Especially the whole dream agent thing which I agree is kind of a farce -except for the people who sign with their dream agents! I’ve heard too many horror stories with writers signing with agents when their “gut” was telling them not to. I think dreams sometimes block what we know to be true deep down. But I think it needs to go beyond just a decision about an agent – what about which story idea to pursue and like Elana mentioned, when our query letter is ready or our manuscript. I want to go with my instinct but I still want it to be based on information.

  19. Ghenet Myrthil September 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    I usually trust my gut because so far it hasn’t steered me wrong. When it comes to publishing decisions, I would still want to do a ton of research before deciding on something, but also listen to what my gut tells me to do.

  20. Patti September 9, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    I trust my gut, but only after I’ve consulted my brain.

  21. Susan Kaye Quinn September 9, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Our instincts (I believe) are just the subconscious desires and information we’ve tucked away. They can totally lead us in the right direction, or they can be an amalgamation of all our fears, coalescing into a “feeling” of what’s right or wrong.

    Engaging the brain brings balance. But there’s a lot of decisions in life where it is *impossible* to have enough information for a decision based on rationality alone. For that, bring in the gut and let it do its job.

    p.s. for the record, I don’t think you can know how it will be to work with *anyone* until you have actually worked with them.

  22. Wendy September 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    LOVE this question. I trust my gut because it’s actually the upper left quadrant of the Holy Spirit. 😀

    ~ Wendy

  23. Stacy September 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    I trust my instincts in all other aspects of my life, but I’m just learning to do so as a writer. A lot of that has to do with self-confidence and fear of failure, but as I look back over the last couple of years, I know that I should have gone with my gut on some decisions instead of second-guessing myself. Still on the learning curve.

    And I love Wendy’s response, lol:)

  24. Jennifer Shirk September 9, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    Well, I rarely make decisions based on my gut–even though my gut is pretty good.

    I usually ask around first–either via blogs, my crit partners, or authors I meet at a conference and get a bunch of opinions. THEN I go with gut. 🙂

  25. Julie Musil September 9, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Your squirrel thing? For us it’s rabbits. Lots and lots of rabbits. And of course you know they multiply.

    Gut…for the most part, I trust it. Sometimes it’s been wrong, but most times it’s right. If there’s a niggling feeling about something…something that’s just not right…it’s my gut. Or God. Or both.

  26. becca puglisi September 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    For us it’s locusts. Seriously. Big, disgusting, gross. And unlike you I have no problem squashing them dead whenever I find them.

    I’m evil. In the bug world, they call me She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

    Gah. This is such a great question because people are always saying this and it’s hard to nail down. My answer is very lame-o, but I think following your gut gets easier the more you write. For the longest time, I didn’t think I had good instincts because I never knew what to do when it came to my writing. Now I realize it’s a matter of paying attention. Once you start sensing the nudge, it gets easier to recognize. Then, of course, comes the lovely part of having to decide whether to listen to what it’s saying or give it a candy bar and tell it to go away.

  27. Donna K. Weaver September 9, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    The idea of intuition is a strong one. For some people it’s a powerful tool. Others not so much so. Gotta learn to know yourself.

    Enjoyed this post.

  28. Lola Sharp September 9, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    I definitely trust my instinct/gut/heart. BUT, when able, I always take the time do homework, consult my brain, use logic and facts combined with gut. Sometimes life puts us in situations where we don’t have the luxury of time and we have to shoot fast from the hip…or ‘gut’. (yanno, like, to kill the rascally squirrel while he’s caught in the act, or let him flee with the stuffing.)
    If after taking the time to do research and think on a decision, and if it’s a logic toss-up, I always go with gut as my tie-breaker. But, I’m not an indecisive person. And, I trust my instincts.

    Have a lovely weekend,

  29. Leslie Rose September 9, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    I’m definitely a “gutist.” Some may call it impulsive, but I like to go with a positive vibe. I’ve had some surprise requests for fulls from agents who on the surface didn’t widely rep what I was selling YET they still asked on past the query. Go and figure.

  30. LynNerd September 10, 2011 at 12:40 am #

    My gut feeling has been wrong many times as far as agents or who I thought someone was, but they turned out to be completely different. Naive people need to use caution when trusting their gut.

    Gut instinct does work as far as one of my kids dating someone that I get a really bad feeling about from the get-go. I give that person the benefit of the doubt, but am very cautious. My gut has ALWAYS been right, and then once I had enough proof, I acted on my gut instinct. I think that a mother’s gut instinct is usually right.

  31. Botanist September 10, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    I echo the comment made a few times already: I trust my gut, but only after I’ve consulted my brain.

    And as for the question of what is that gut instinct anyway, there’s a lot of research on consciousness that suggests most of our real decision-making is subconscious anyway. There’s a lot of analytical information processing going on in the deeper layers of your brain. Just because you aren’t aware of it doesn’t mean it ain’t happening.

    In fact, many of our “conscious and rational” decisions are actually just “us” rationalising the decision that our “gut” has already made for us.

  32. Traci Kenworth September 10, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    When it comes to some things you can. For example whether to have character A or B start off the story. The right setting. Who your characters should be and why. But sometimes our gut will get in the way of letting our pride rule the day and keeping us from seeing that the story really needs to begin later, if you need that passage, and if the story has a future or should become part of your drawer. I guess it’s kind of a seesaw, weighing what you know, with advice you know is meant to help (or hopefully it is, anyway) not hurt you.

  33. shelley moore thomas September 10, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    Trust your gut. Query accordingly

    But just because you query an agent, does not mean you have to accept their offer of representation. You will learn more in one phone conversation than all of the advice on the internet pooled together. You will be able to tell if there is a “chemistry” between the two of you and an ease of communication. You will find out if their vision for your book/career matches your own.

    Have your brain ask the smart questions, but trust your gut to understand the answers.

    Good luck!


  34. Paul Greci September 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    I think “trusting your gut” is part of decision-making. And if it works out, you can say, “Yeah, I went with my gut.”

    If it doesn’t work out, well, I think it’s important to remember that you made the best decision you could at the time given all the information you had, and then move on from there.

  35. Eileen Astels September 11, 2011 at 12:39 am #

    When it comes to evasive medical tests, yes, I trust my gut and get the heck out of there. But for agents…um, I don’t think I would. I’m really hoping that when this book is ready to shop I’ll have an idea from agents I’ve met at conferences as to which ones I’ll end proposals to first. However, that said, beggers can’t be choosers, so if I fail to attain any of those on my “would like” list, I’m not above sending out to others that I’ve studied only online.

  36. Leigh Moore September 12, 2011 at 2:54 am #

    Always! And then I fret and fret and fret and fret… LOL! No, but I do. I don’t know. It’s impossible to know someone based on a blurb and a short phone convo. But I think our instincts are usually right.

    And I do a lot of prayin~ 😀

  37. Marcia September 12, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    I consult both my gut and my brain, but in any disagreement, gut wins.

    I’ve gone with my brain when my gut said otherwise and was sorry. I’ve gone with my gut when my brain said, “Don’t do it!” and had success.

    I’m an intuitive type (INFJ), but I agree with those who say this is often the Holy Spirit speaking. 🙂

  38. Kris September 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    I love that Marcia above me referenced the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. 🙂

    I think gut wins most of the time. It’s so easy to second guess though if things don’t work out the way you expect them to. And they rarely do. So you have to trust your gut, but you also have to forgive yourself if it was wrong.


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