Wednesday, February 9, 2011

(In)Flexibility and the Writing Process

I like to think when I first started writing, I was a lot more inflexible than I am now. I was so concerned with getting the characters and events in my mind on the page that everything had to be just so. Think description dumps and overly choreographed scenes. As flawed as they were, I loved those scenes because I was writing for myself.

When I reached the point where I wanted to write for other people too, I had to make tough decisions how to recast those early attempts into something people would pay money to read. Kill your darlings and all that.


It's a difficult process, especially early on. For a long time, my only argument for why things happened the way it did in my manuscript was “That’s just how it is.” A brilliant rationale, don’t you think? Any changes, even sound ones, that didn’t mesh with the mental image of my work were rejected. I was too inflexible, too unwilling to consider other possibilities.

It wasn’t until I realized I couldn’t get from point A to point B in my story without making dramatic changes that I finally eased up on what I thought the story should be and what it needed to be. I finished the draft, revised, and was inordinately proud of what I’d accomplished. Once I started workshopping the piece with critique partners, members in my writing groups, and garnered feedback from editors and agents I realized that I still had a long way to go. My work simply wasn’t where it needed to be. And I decided then that, although I love my story, above all, I want to make it work.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to compromise all my ideas and story elements in a bid to be published. But I will have to ensure I have achieved an acceptable level of proficiency in my craft, sophistication in my plot, and depth in my characters. It means if three people flag the same word for being out of place, I change it. If people have difficulty understanding my character’s motivation, I make it more pronounced. If my opening isn’t cutting it, I revise it until it shines. Every change I make is one less thing someone can reject me for.

So I've become more flexible. I'm more open to change. I want to make my work as strong as it can be. If that means letting go of words, phrases, wholesale scenes that hold my story back, so be it. At the end of the day it is still my story, and better for it.

3 comments:

Laura Marcella said...

This is so true. It is hard to change it! You become so close to what you've written that it seems like it is the best it can be...which is why it's so important to have outside eyes read it for us! It's how we are as humans: we always see other people's flaws and faults, yet we get defensive when those same people point out our own flaws. Outside perspectives are key to changing for the better, as people and as writers.

Rachael Harrie said...

"Every change I make is one less thing someone can reject me for." - I love how you've come to think like this. It's such a process isn't it. For me, I've found I come full circle on my MS, from thinking it's (kind of) fantastic, to realizing how much work it needs, to revising (while still keeping all my darlings), to throwing up my hands and ripping into it until it becomes the best piece of writing I can do!

Hugs,

Rach

Bluestocking said...

Thanks Rach and Laura for such thoughtful comments! It is such a process, I am constantly changing, my work is changing, from sharing my work and going through the steps. It's essential for any writer, and I'm glad you are both going through it with me!

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