I am an expert at cleaning out my closet. I have been pushed by circumstance to get rid of many of my possessions again and again. But when it comes to my words—I’m not as talented.
I have been thinking about this as I revise my middle grade novel. When I started the Novel Incubator class two years ago, I took a beloved manuscript and put it aside for a new version. I changed some names, and developed a new plot. But I kept some darlings from the old version, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized if I were to make any progress on my revision, I needed to release those as well. That included the name of my protagonist, a name that somehow felt integral to the original manuscript.
But once I started to let go of that name and fragments from the old version, I was finally freed to enter a revision that had defied me. I could start playing and creating inside the structure of my draft. Up to that point, I had tinkered, I had tweaked, but never could solve what needed solving. But now, even though it sometimes feels scary, I’m going down all kinds of new roads—making a minor character a possible sidekick, bringing in politics, letting go of some precious scenes that were working well and that I loved. I’ve even changed tenses—which was perhaps one of the most powerful revision tools I’ve ever stumbled upon.
Sometimes I am afraid that I am writing in the wrong direction and that I will end up with lots of useless chapters and have to start all over again. And yet, the new energy that I feel as I scribble, finally working again, makes it all feel worth it. And I know it only helps me know my characters and story better.
This past summer I had a great conversation with Annie Hartnett, author of Rabbit Cake. She said that when she was working on her book, she would follow any and all suggestions thrown at her, trying different climaxes, putting characters in and taking them out. She said it never bothered her to try something—all she cared about was her protagonist and her voice and interest. She said, once you have voice you can make anything happen.
I’d like to add community to that equation. Where would I be without the support and provocation of the Incubator Gang: my year-mates Andrea, Bob, Helen, Janet, Jen, Rachel, Tracey; the inimitable Michelle Hoover, Emily Ross, and honorary Ink, Kate Racculia? There are more, to be sure: friends, family and past mentors. At this holiday time, I thank the many who keep me writing. And I wish you all ease with your pens.