It’s the 1st Wednesday of the month again. That’s when I take part in Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I encourage you to check out their website and even sign up for the IWSG Newsletter. Today I will share about how hard it can be to make changes in your writing as I answer this month’s IWSG Day question.
The IWSG Day question for September is: Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing?
What has surprised me are the times when I have made changes, despite how difficult it is to do.
Artists, including (perhaps, especially) writers, get very attached to their work. The creative process is often compared to “birthing” something. Just as when you have an actual child, you become quite protective over it. I have learned that this analogy is a good one, but the timing is off. We conceive of an idea. Then the creative process is that time in the womb. Just as a child changes dramatically during its 9 months in the womb, a novel, or other forms of writing will change dramatically before it comes into the world to be seen.
I recall twenty years ago when I had my first ultrasound. I was pregnant with my daughter Summer, and from the moment I knew I was having a baby, I love her. So, that grainy black and white image was precious to me. To anyone else, it looked more like a Rorschach ink blot.
It’s hard to tell a new mother that her precious baby’s ultrasound picture isn’t all that interesting to the cashier at the grocery store–but it isn’t.
As writers, we experience the same phenomenon.
All too often, as writers, we think the moment the idea pops into our mind (conception) it is ready to be seen by everyone. We tell everyone from the waitress at our favorite diner to our mailman about the next great American novel that we are writing. What we don’t realize is that it looks nothing like it will when it is complete.
We hesitate to make changes to characters
The characters we write are one example of something we hate to change in a novel. We let them walk around in our heads day and night until we even dream about them. Their histories, personalities, flaws, and failures are as real to us as our own. We are intimate with their motivations. Often, we know a lot about these characters (even the minor ones) that no one else will ever know. All of this makes them very real to us.
Like real people, characters go through changes—sometimes radical ones.
One year ago, I completed a very rough draft of my mystery novel. Then, after receiving some feedback and doing a lot of research into story structure, I knew that what I had written was just a spark of an idea., and a far cry from what it would look like in its final form. I’m not just talking about grammar and polishing.
Changes in Characters
I eliminated several characters, changed the purpose of others, refined their motivations, even changed their occupations.
For example, my main character was originally florist. I loved that because she was very feminine and creative. I could easily relate to her. Logistically, though, her occupation limited her when it came to solving a mystery. Most of the time she was listening in on conversations to get her information. I wanted her to be active in the investigation. So I put her in the thick of things by making her a conservation warden rather than the widow of a conservation warden.
This was a difficult change to make.
There is a sense of grief that goes along with letting go of things the way you would like to have them. I felt like a close friend moved away from my fictional town. It wasn’t just hard on me. My husband loved the original character and was quite vocal in his opposition to the changes I was planning on making. Still, for the good of the book, I pressed on. He has not read the new draft yet. When he does, I think he will love this new incarnation of her as much as the original.
Changes in Scenes
Some scenes I deleted completely. Others I changed. And still, there were other scenes which needed to be written from scratch. At first, these changes were difficult.
The ability to hold loosely to the things that we create is important. Otherwise, we can miss out on something new and exciting. It’s like a mom who goes into labor but is afraid to have her baby outside of her body. It is such a frightening change. They are suddenly vulnerable.
It is not an author’s birthright to have readers love what they write.
When you’re writing for others, you have to sacrifice. Readers don’t have all the information that you as an author have unless you give it to them. Nor will you excite them without good reason. That’s something you earn as a writer. It costs.
Like most people, I’m averse to change. I’m surprised at how hard it is to do, even on paper (or Scrivener). Yet, as writers, it’s essential to be able to make the needed changes and move forward. I guess what has surprised me in my writing is the ability to make these changes, even when it’s hard.
What are YOUR thoughts?
I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!
I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com