authority over our writing

It can be challenging at times to stay connected to our initial impulse. All sorts of demons can spring up in the rewrite: fear, doubt, and impatience. Sometimes we can get sidetracked by the desire to dazzle, or we can begin to question the “apparent” contradictions of our hero’s behavior and attempt to tame him, while effectively neutering the “aliveness” of our story. Our character’s motivations have nothing to do with “logic” but rather have everything to do with the human desire to get what we want. Let’s trust the wildness of our first draft as we continue to explore our through-line with greater specificity.

Remember, our hero’s want never changes, but what he wants looks very different from one point in the story to the next. We can kill the “aliveness” of our initial creation by trying to make sense of it all, rather than trusting the humanity. Our job is to support the action by exploring more deeply our hero’s motivation. When we find ourselves wondering why our hero has done something, we are on the right track. Stay curious.

What can often happen when we are finally ready to have people read our work is that these well-intentioned folk will give notes like “this part didn’t make sense,” and we will be tempted to get rid of it rather than clarifying it. Sometimes they will even say “you should get rid of it,” and because we are tired, and perhaps fearful, we will abdicate our authority over our material. This can happen so quickly, and once we have done this, we are on the road to losing connection to all of our hard won insight.

Our job as writers is to be the final authority over our work. We are the parent of our creation. No matter who the note-giver is, they can never fully know the story that dwells in our heart. If we ever make changes to our work without first asking ourselves what the underlying reason was for the moment or the scene, we are abdicating our authority. This is crucial to keep in mind, and here is how we know we are abdicating our power: We are feeling uneasy. We must listen to this. We can have a tendency to numb out and ignore it, because we want to be done. We must trust the story that lives within. We will be rewarded in publishing heaven, even if it is our publisher who is giving us the notes. I’m not suggesting we be belligerent or difficult, but we must be ready to defend (at least, for ourselves) what we are attempting to express. (This may not even involve a conversation with the other person. We can just nod our head and thank them for the notes). Oftentimes we may be unable to articulate what we are attempting to express, and that is just fine. We cannot afford losing something essential for the sake of expediency. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. (This is also why we don’t want our work to be read by anyone else until we have done all we can do with it. It is the sign of an amateur to ask for notes when he is not done.

There can also be a desire to want to erase something because we don’t quite understand it, or we fear that we are not up to the task of making it clear. When we are faced with this, the more challenging choice is the only choice. We must stay with it, be patient, and trust that our unconscious will resolve it in time.

Sometimes what we write is so personal that we fear nobody will understand. Again, and again, as I work with writers, we discover that this is the sweet spot. When we start to feel just a little too exposed, we are hitting pay dirt. Tapping into the universal is terrifying, but also liberating. It can feel uncomfortable because it is unfamiliar, but as we stay with it, clarity will prevail. The truth is in there, and it is always worth the investigation.

Please share your thoughts.