I’ve now been on this writing journey for one-and-a-half manuscripts.
What I’ve learned is more than the process and principles. I’ve discovered that writing is more than words. I need to play different roles to ensure those words earn their place. Yes, I’m responsible for putting them on the page – and I do that – but I am challenged to do more than simply put fingers on keys or penstrokes on page.
I’ve realized I need to be more than a writer. I need to be …
- A fire starter
I love this part of the writing process, where the spark of an idea flares in the corner of the mind. This spark holds so much promise and opportunity and for one moment in time it could be anything; perhaps the best idea that’s ever been had.
That spark needs to be fanned into flame so it flares into life. Sometimes that idea is a story. Sometimes it’s a character trait. Sometimes it’s exploring a character’s backstory and finding an idea that then gives them true depth. For me, it was asking a simple question of a main character – “as a Pastor, why are you so down on yourself?” – and finding a fiancée who had left him at the altar.
- A production line worker
In my younger days, I held several production line jobs as a way to earn enough money to pay for that all-important first car. I’ve stood in the same spot for eight hours at a time in the dirt and the grime and cranked out widget after widget in a repetitive, mind-numbing dance.
I’ve had those days as a writer, where I know it’s not flowing from the creative force I thought would be on tap. But I’ve pushed on in that repetitive dance, focusing on getting a character from Point A to Point B so I’ve got something to work with when I edit. Which leads me to …
- A rose bush pruner
My grandfather taught me a valuable gardening lesson that has stayed with me to this day. I would cautiously approach a spreading, sprawling rose bush with a tiny pair of secateurs and give it what my grandfather would call “a short-back-and-sides”. I didn’t want to cut too hard. The rose bush looked too good and had put so much energy into producing a spray of leaves and colour. It seemed a shame.
But my grandfather knew that growth had to go because it was the best thing for it. He would wade in with enormous skill and knowledge – and a fairly handy-sized chainsaw – and decimate the plant, cutting it back far enough to allow room for the rosebush to grow into the space he had created. Next season, the rose was bigger than before, better looking and somehow stronger, even though it had lost 90% of what it was.
I now edit my manuscript with my grandfather’s eye and a metaphorical chainsaw. Words that, at the time of writing, felt like brilliant prose has been cut away to give the real story room to grow. I’ve cut about 20,000 words and the story is a trimmer, leaner piece of work that tells a richer story. Those words are then mulched and they feed the story as it grows.
- A protective parent
I joined a critique group, where I have had the chance to float my writing past people, seeking their feedback. This isn’t really new to me – I’ve been a copywriter for 25 years, where almost every day of my career has involved criticism of something I’ve written.
But it has been different this time; it is my fiction under the spotlight. Now I’m a protective parent where I can see my child’s potential like no one else. I know how good it will be if it’s given the chance to flourish, so I find myself holding back paternal protective feelings when I get comments from people who don’t see what I see. But while I do need to protect my child and filter the criticism (to incorporate every single comment or change would not help its development), there are times in which it’s obvious I can’t see what needs to be seen because I’m too close; too protective.
- A loyal friend (albeit imaginary)
Developing characters has been more enjoyable than I ever imagined. Sure, these characters live in my head, but to me they’re real. (I’m only telling you, fellow writer, because I know you’ll understand. Anyone else would hear that and bring in a therapist.)
My characters are real, with hopes, dreams and disappointments (they have to if they’re going to be compelling to read), but I have felt genuine relief when they have survived a trial. I have felt their pain when they plunged further into a hole of their own making. I have celebrated with them when they reach their goal or find their destiny.
I’m learning at each step of the journey that writing is more than words and writers are more than typists. I am becoming more than a writer. Are you?