Being Flexible With Your Writing

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” STEPHEN KING

I read that quote this morning and I thought it really resonated with the topic I was intending to blog about today: being flexible and keeping an open mind when writing. When writing the first draft you probably have a good idea in your mind of what you want to write about, you may have even planned everything out and written in down. So you shut out the world and just write, getting all your ideas down on paper, then comes the rewrite and this is when you need to keep an open mind.

As a teacher, and particularly as a substitute teacher, I find that being flexible is an important aspect of my work. Some days I walk into a classroom to teach for another teacher and they have the day planned out for me, other days there is no plan at all and I have to come up with a days worth of lessons on the spot. Every day is with a different class too, so I never know what to expect when I walk into the classroom. Some days I have a lovely well behaved class who do all their work, other days I have a volatile mix of students who like to see how far they can push me. I think being flexible as a teacher can be transferred to being flexible as a writer.

In some parts of my novel there are scenes that fit well with my plan and don’t need much work apart from a little tweak here or there to fix the technical errors and reword the awkward phrases. Then I get to other parts and I realise I need to scrap the whole passage and write it again from scratch. Then there are the characters, who are a bit like my students. In some parts of the story they are quite well-behaved and I am happy with their characterisation. In other parts, however, they just don’t want to cooperate, there are voice issues and the characters seem flat.

It can be difficult to prune a story you have poured your heart and soul into and spent hours writing. In my first draft I had written a prologue, which I loved. It was the first thing I wrote when I sat down to write my novel and the idea for it had been floating around in my head for quite some time. I liked the way the entire passage flowed and was pleased with the imagery I had created with the descriptions, but in the end I had to cut it from the story. As much as I was attached to it I had to admit that it was unnecessary. The prologue started with characters that would not appear again in the entire story (apart from being briefly mentioned by another character) and the information included in the prologue could easily be incorporated into the story elsewhere. By cutting out the prologue I’ve created a stronger story.

As you rewrite be honest with yourself and be open to change. Be willing to stray from your original plan to make a stronger story. In my original plan I had a certain ending in mind, which I wrote in my first draft, but on reflection I realised it is not a strong ending. My original ending was really just a set up to lead into the next book (since I plan to write a series), but my novel would not work well as a stand-alone book if I ended it in that way. I had to rethink the entire ending to make it more defined and to allow the book to feel finished as opposed to a lead into the next book of the series.

When you finish your first draft try leaving it for a few days before beginning your revision and when you do start revising try to go in with an open mind and a willingness to be flexible. Let go of your preconceived notions of sticking to your plan and instead look at what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to prune unnecessary parts or rewrite entire passages to strengthen the overall story. It can be a daunting process, but in the end you will have a better story.

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