I recently ended a writing project and returned the payment. Repaying someone is kind of painful but this time, it wasn’t. I had taken on something that didn’t work for me and I felt a wild sense of freedom when I let it go. I can’t say that I didn’t get advance warning. My instincts were shouting “no” while my mouth was forming the word “yes.” Instead of getting the message that this man’s book was not for me, I stomped on my gut feelings and tried to override them. It didn’t work, it never does, and I had to suffer the consequences of taking on a job that was destined to end up awkwardly with bad feelings all around.

It was hardly the first time I didn’t trust my gut in my writing career, talking myself into believing I could do the job easily. I was capable, that was true, but I was overlooking my instincts that told me this would be a nightmare and I needed to take a pass. It was a sinking feeling in my stomach, a sense of foreboding that I didn’t pay attention to. But I decided to forget my feelings and do the job anyway. Needless to say it didn’t work out.

There is a fear in most artists that your current job will be the last. That makes it extremely difficult to trust your gut and turn something down. But wouldn’t you rather wait for the next job instead of taking one that promises to be a pain the ass? For me, I usually pick up the message in the first phone call or meeting and I try to pay attention, but sometimes I get tricked. During an initial meeting with a British duchess some years back, she was such an actress (she missed her calling), she made it so clear that she was ready to drop everything and work with me on this book, I told myself we were a good fit, but once she had flown me to London and set me up in her palace, the fiasco began. She threw tantrums, she dressed down her staff, she had unrealistic expectations about timing, and in three weeks, everything blew up.

I was tricked in that circumstance but most of the time, the signs are there from the get go. Here are some of them:

  • She doesn’t want me to talk.
  • He doesn’t listen.
  • She cancels the “getting to know you” phase because she’s too busy to show up.
  • He takes himself so seriously, he won’t accept anything I tell him. Why did he hire me in the first place?

I once worked with a psychologist who was so attached to his every word, he told me that I needed to get in touch with his “nuances.” I felt upset, like a dark cloud was descending, but he was offering so much money, I did that thing again: I overlooked my gut feelings and pretty soon, I was in his hornet’s nest of supposed nuances that proved impenetrable. I have to say that I felt his picayune nature and Narcissism from the start. The money lured me but in a short period of time the payment went back to him and once again I felt like I was out of jail.

I keep hoping I can skip the jail phase before the iron gate clangs. It takes courage and trust in your gut to do the difficult thing. In the end, however, your initial sense of whether this will work for you is accurate. If I’d listened, it would have been to my benefit. I keep trying. When I trust my gut, I dodge a bullet and I attempt to keep a positive attitude until the next project appears. Has this ever happened to you?