By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
Recently in a radio interview, the host made a comment about how hard it must be after a book is published to part ways with the characters and story that I've grown to love. He asked me how I handle that. The question made me pause for an instant.
Yes, I do fall in love with my book, but only while I'm writing the first draft. I usually get super excited about the way everything comes together. I put my heroine in deadly trouble and love when I'm able to figure out how to get her out of a deep dark black hole believably. I love when I develop those tricky character arcs so that my hero and heroine grow emotionally and spiritually, but are still imperfect. And I even love when I'm able use symbolism throughout, wrap up the romance sweetly, and find perfect metaphors and similes for descriptions.
However, I know the love I’m feeling for my story won’t last. After writing the first draft, I'll edit the book at least four times if (of varying levels of editing) if not more. During all of those edits, I’ll grow increasingly more critical. My love for the manuscript will continue to diminish. Then finally I'll turn the book in to my publisher for the very last time. At that point, I’ll loathe the book. And seriously consider ripping it up and throwing it away.
Yes. This happens every time. I fall madly in love with my book and think it’s the best thing I ever wrote, but then I gradually fall out of love and think it’s the worst thing in the world. As much as I wish I could avoid the painful swing of emotions, I’m coming to realize it’s normal, even helpful.
Writers need to fall in love with their stories during the first draft.
Our creativity needs freedom during the first draft. Sure, I carefully plot out my book. I’m intentional with themes, character development, and story pacing. I even challenge myself with each new book to focus on growing in a particular area.
But . . . during the writing process, I delve deeply into my imaginary world. I ignore my internal editor. I give the story the freedom to grow and become its own entity. I give my characters permission to change and develop. And I don’t allow myself to be critical of my book in any way, shape, or form. I don’t compare myself to others.
I focus on my story. I let myself only see the good and the positive. I relish in it. I rarely experience writer's block because during the first draft, I keep the mental red pen locked away. I write uninhibited, letting the words flow without stopping to critique anything.
But after the first draft, writers need to fall out of love with their books.
That initial blindness to our story’s faults and problems serves us well during first draft creativity. But when we reach the editing stage, it’s time to pull out the guns and start shooting holes in our work.
We need to open our eyes wide to our faults, the areas where we’re weak, the many problems our stories will have. At this stage, we need to take off the protective, rose-colored glasses and see our work in all its nakedness.
We’ll do ourselves a favor to put our work under the intense scrutiny of our own self-editing, the eagle-eyes of a critique partners, and any other outside help we can get (contest feedback, freelance editors, beta readers, etc.).
We should begin to feel the pain of having our work ripped apart. And if we don’t feel pain, we’re probably not being honest enough with the quality of our work. At this point, it’s perfectly normal to grow so critical that we loathe our work. It’s then, when we ache that we can use the negative energy to push us to work harder to get our stories even better.
Problems arise when we get the love-hate relationship in the wrong order.
During the first draft, if we fail to fall in love and instead turn on the inner critic, we’ll risk a number of problems: writer’s block, word flow issues, slower speed of writing, lack of motivation, etc. We could even risk losing out on the joy of the writing process itself.
During the editing, if we fail to fall out of love and instead see our work too highly, we’ll risk a number of problems: we won’t be able to evaluate our work critically enough, we might reject hard feedback from others, we could even become embittered by a writing industry that we deem as “unfair” or too “limited.”
My Summary: Allow ourselves to fall madly in love with our first drafts. That’s important to the creative flow. But then make sure we put an end to the love-affair during the editing. That’s equally important to the process of writing.
What do you think? Have you ever gone through the love-hate relationship with one of your books? Have you ever gotten the love-hate relationship in the wrong order?
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