Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reinventing change

When I first started my novel, BENEATH THE RUINS, it had a different title and a different focus than the novel I finished with. One of the reasons it changed so much was I'd read this article about reinventing yourself as a writer. In this article, different writers talked about hitting walls in their careers that they just couldn't seem to get over. Whether it was dwindling readership, losing an editor and not find another within the house to take you on, or just feeling stymied by the restraints of the genre they published in, each had a reason for scrapping the career they'd worked at building and starting over with a new name and a new attitude.

Whatever the initial reason each writer decided a reinvention was the way to go, they all took a step back, looked at what they were doing and made the conscience decision to change.

I remember clearly when that moment hit me. I was soaking in the tub, bubbles up to my chin, and the light went on. What I was writing was good. There was critical acclaim and awards to assure me of that--but was it great? Was it as good as it could be? Was the only difference between my books and everyone else's books, me?

I simmered on the questions for awhile, trying to find the answers within myself and no matter how I tried to deny it, the answers told the truth. It was time for me to make a major change. Up until this point, I'd viewed this kind of change with trepidation. If I started over, what would happen to my other books? The name I'd worked so hard to establish? How would I be ME if I became someone else?

And the big question, How could I be sure the new me wouldn't end up in the same place the old me was at?

Of course, I didn't know. I still don't. But I saw that I was reacting out of fear--like someone in a dead end job she hates but won't leave because she is afraid the next job will be worse. Fear loves failure and I knew that if I let fear make my decisions for me, I should set another place at the table for its best friend and be done with my dreams.

I pulled out my trusty spiral notebook and started making notes. I took a hard look at the story I was working on, stripped it down to my original idea. (If you've never heard of original idea as it pertains to your story, it's a concept wrapped around the question "what was the first idea that got you excited about the story?" What made you think, "I want to write this.") Author and speaker Bob Mayer does an amazing workshop on original idea and if you can't hear it in person, see if you can find a CD from one of the many conferences he does and listen to it.

Back to my story. Once I'd stripped it down, I asked myself how I could make it not just different, but mind blowing. I'd like to say the angel of creativity suddenly appeared and waved her wand over me, filling me with the warm light of knowing, but alas, it was a lot more of jotting down ideas and striking them out, brainstorming with people outside my usual sphere, and searching until I finally hit the idea that did fill me up with excitement.

Once revealed, this idea had me writing furiously in margins and on napkins and everywhere else I could find. My plot and motivation just poured out and for every "why does s/he do that?" I had an answer.

I wrote BENEATH THE RUINS in record time (for me--less than a year). I'm not one of those authors who can just churn out a book in a few months. (Wish I was *sigh*) During the entire process I knew that I was writing something that would take me to the next level in my career. I knew that I'd reinvented myself with this book and I embraced it. Change, though usually painful, is almost always the best thing we can do for ourselves.

Anyway, my point in all this rambling is that we, as writers, need to remember writing a book is a journey. (note, I say journey, not vacation, ha ha). On this journey, you need to be inspired by what you see and motivated to get to the next destination. If you're not, your reader probably won't be either. Your journey may take you to fleebag motels and crappy diners--it may take you to sky rises and champagne brunches. No two journeys are alike.

But if your journey is taking you somewhere you've already been, you need to reevaluate where you want to go and make a change.

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