Gut Check

You know what we don’t talk about enough?

Our guts.

Did you know that if you stretched out all your intestines they would cover about half the surface area of a badminton court?

Or that feeding your microbiome with yogurt makes you better at interpreting and responding to negative emotional stimuli?

I could honestly talk all day about the gut and all its wonders. But this is a newsletter about writing, so let me get to my point: our gut is not just where food goes to be digested.

It’s where our moodsinstincts and even brain chemistry are shaped — turns out the ‘gut feeling’ we’ve all been conditioned to ignore is actually a real thing.

Which is why it’s so important to listen to it when it starts trying to get your attention.

Turns out my gut gets pretty chatty when I’m writing, so there are a few signs that I now know mean “stop what you’re doing and think for a second”:

  • A hard, heavy sensation in my stomach
  • Tightness where my neck meets my skull
  • Heaviness in my limbs
  • Staticky white noise in my brain
  • Irritability and grumpiness

Today I had all five.

I was working on a section for my new book, and it just felt like wading through wet cement.

Although I’d had some suspicion for the past few days that this direction wasn’t working — just one or two symptoms showing up — I’d ignored it, figuring I was probably just tired and a bit scattered from the adventures of the past few days.

But this morning all those symptoms came surging up, and after slogging through for a couple of hours, I finally stopped, stepped back, and put on my observation cap:

My body is pissed about this. Why is that?
I sat for a few minutes and thought about it, and it didn’t take long for the answers to surface:

This is just opinion; you have no data. You’re recycling other people’s arguments. You’re off-course, this isn’t what you set out to do.

Wowzer. Gut instinct pulls no punches. If you stop long enough to listen, you’ll get the unvarnished truth without any softening preamble, and it can be super uncomfortable and frustrating to realise that a piece of writing has gotten away from you.

But the clarity that comes from a gut check like this is also super empowering.

You suddenly know what you need to do, and what to scrap. You get a whole new burst of energy and drive.

So if there’s any advice I can give you today, from all the way back here at Square One, it’s to look after your gut. Give it something to work on, and listen to what it has to tell you.

Make a note of what happens when it’s trying to get your attention, and give yourself permission to stop and hear it.

Some days your brain will override your gut, and sometimes that will work out.

But as they say in the literature, this is a bidirectional deal.

Creativity can’t be all brain all the time. The instinct and insight that come from your gut also have a vital part to play, and if you want energy, momentum and clarity in your work, now is the time to start listening.