Keeping Ourselves & Our Stories as Pliable as Clay

My daughters took a pottery class this past summer. They learned various techniques for manipulating clay—everything from pinching by hand to smoothing it on a pottery wheel. They kiln dried their creations and glazed them.

By the end of the three weeks, they came home with more bowls, cups, plates, and decorations than we’ll ever be able to use! But working with the clay was a valuable experience, one that lends itself not only to the nurturing of their creativity, but also to many life lessons.

I could probably write a book with all the analogies that come from comparing clay to the human spirit. As an adult, my character isn’t fully shaped. I’m still on the potter’s wheel and the master’s hands are gently but firmly plying me. And my children, likewise, are still very much in need of shaping. As a parent, it’s part of my job to continually smooth out the rough edges and mold them into the unique but beautiful works of art they’re meant to be.

And isn’t that true of our stories too? They’re a lot like clay.

As you may remember, this past summer I turned in Book 2 to my publisher. I was certain it was the best story I’d ever written. When my editor finished reading it and told me it would need significant rewrites, I was shocked and slightly devastated (okay, very devastated!). But after a thorough pity-party, I put my head down and got to work. For approximately five weeks, I pushed myself day and night to make some sweeping changes—primarily to the character arcs of both my hero and heroine.

Finally, I finished the rewrites and sent the book back in to my publisher, crossing my fingers and praying I’d finally gotten things right. When I talked with my editor at the writer’s conference I attended a few weeks ago, he’d indicated I was on track but would still have more work to do. Thus, I should have been prepared for the email I got last week. But as I opened the email attachment to see eight pages of notes of additional changes I needed to make, my heart sank.

With tears in my eyes, I looked at my mom who was visiting and said, “This is just too hard. I don’t know if want to keep writing if it’s always this hard.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment. I could see her wise mind churning behind gentle eyes.

“I just want to be able to get it right the first time,” I continued. “It’s so painful to go through all the work only to continue to fail to make my story likeable enough.”

“You need to look at your first draft like a lump of clay,” my mom finally said. “The book isn’t a failure. It’s just not finished. It still needs to be shaped and worked from a lump into a something beautiful.”

My story, a lump of clay. I let her words roll around in my mind.

“Very few people are able to produce a polished product without time on the potter’s wheel,” she said. “In fact, you’re blessed to have a talented team of people who are working with you to shape and polish that lump. They’re helping you make it into something that others can really admire.”

And I knew she was right. I didn’t need to be discouraged about continuing the process of editing my novel. In fact, I should be encouraged that I had the opportunity and the excellent help to mold my story into a book that someday, hopefully, readers will enjoy and appreciate.

That’s true for all of us. When we’re discouraged by how much work our stories need, when we're disheartened by the length of time the writing and editing takes us, or when we’re tempted to toss the lump aside, we need to remind ourselves the beauty comes out of the shaping and molding and polishing. We have to remain as pliable as clay. Both in writing and life.

What about you? Have you ever been discouraged by the amount of work it takes to shape your stories? Are you staying pliable and open to the molding process? Do you have a team who can help you?


  1. For some reason, clay can be an analogy to almost everything! What a wise mom you have! And you can do it!

  2. I remember trying to form a clay bowl on a wheel. I think writing is harder! I'm glad your mom was there to help you through the disappointment. You'll get through the revisions and the book will be fabulous! :)

  3. Thank you for sharing your heart here Jody. I have been going through that myself this year when Beta readers and crit partners and then the edit came back telling me to scrub the story and take the good to start over. I wanted to cry--did--and then decided that this part of making it good and that's the whole plan, isn't it? I know your next book will be as good as this first one or even better!

  4. Yes. Yes. Yes. I love this comparison. On my Website I mention how I love the malleable nature of words. I want to be malleable for my God.

    I appreciate that words can be worked with.

    And I have come up against some major rewrites and have put the hard work in. Man, it felt good to prove to myself I could stick with it.

    Hey, the One Question Friday today is all about YOU over at my place. :D

    ~ Wendy

  5. Your mom is one wise lady. I've got to admit I'm scared to get that letter from an editor some day. I'll refer to this post when I do. :)

  6. I too have been on the quest to "do it right the first time."

    But maybe it's unrealistic? I don't know. I wish I did! Your mom is a wise woman.

  7. This encouraged me this morning, 'cause it's exactly where I'm at. Thanks, Jody :)

  8. A great lesson - what a wonderful mom! Right now I would give my left arm for a team of people to tell me how to make my book better! (Grass is always greener, eh?) :)

  9. Yes, I've been discouraged. I wrote The End on my WIP, knowing I needed to add at least 20,000 words. I have great critique partners to help. Knowing they have their own lump of clay, though further along than mine, gives me hope.

  10. I've thought of that exact analogy myself. The whole process of revision is like working clay. I'm sure your original work was a beautiful peice of quality clay and now it just needs to be shaped into a lovely vase. Natural raw clay in it's unworked state is one of God's greatest gifts to civilization, but a vase is something people can use to preserve flowers.

  11. Jody, dear friend - God is shaping you as you shape your book. And even now you are a vessel he is using to bless others. Sharing your heartache and perseverance ministers to other writers. Thank you for your openness.

    Keep working the wheel, girl. The end result will be stunning!

  12. Since my book is an autobiography, I would dread any "re-writes", my feeling that it is too personal and MY story, not to be changed-ha! But I was encouraged reading "The Glass Castle" and was inspired to finish it at least for my family. It is still a great feeling of acomplishment to have it all down in print complete with pictures. And I go on to dream that maybe my "Potato In The Spout" will be on book shelves one day......

  13. "I could probably write a book with all the analogies that come from comparing clay to the human spirit" - Actually I am! At least a chapter anyway! But you're right, it could fill a whole book. Remember, without the fiery furnace (kiln) the clay will remain weak and never achieve its ultimate purpose. It is usually our struggles that God uses to strengthen us and give Him glory.

    I love how you apply it to writing. Thanks to Mom for the great illustration, one I will think back on often.

  14. I'm with your mom. It's fantastic that you have the support to encourage you to make the book the best it can be. No one has read my first draft but me. Lordy does it need work. I can't wait until it's good enough to share for some objective criticism. In the meantime, I'll keep shaping it.

  15. *sigh* I needed this. You have a way of making even the most difficult of lessons seem beautiful, like blessings. You have no idea what a difference your calm and encouraging wisdom makes in my writing life, Jody. I appreciate you so much!! :-)

  16. Cyber hugs to you, Jody! I have heaps of faith in you and know that when The Doctor's Lady is finished, your story will be even better than you thought possible.

    Thanks for sharing your heart. You're such a wonderful example to so many of us.

  17. I definitely needed to read this post today. I received my first revision letter yesterday. The editors were very encouraging, but they also suggested some pretty big rewrites. I have a lot of work to do. Before the Call, I think we believe that having a publisher buy our books will solve all of our self doubts, but it's tough on this end - maybe even tougher than before the contract. I just have to hang on to God and trust that He knows what He's doing. It's comforting to know that talented writers like you are dealing with the same issues.

  18. I abandoned a story a couple of years ago because the amount of work needed to shape it was daunting and I didn't know where to start.

    I wouldn't be as easily put off today, and I'm thinking about revisiting that story sometime in the future.

    You've got a very smart mama.

  19. It's interesting that you would write about this right now, where one of my daughters has spent the week sculpting clay here at home (and in sculpting class at school) while I made MAJOR revisions to my book. I mean, earth shattering ones because those closest to me pointed out flaws that they had been too shy to point out before. They waited for me to ask and then told me the ugly truth. It took me a few days to bury my pride and slam the clay of my novel down and work it anew. And I'm more happy with it than ever. Go figure. Thank you for your wise words and perfect analogy! As always. :)

  20. I find it fascinating the way the mind can go to extremes.

    I've been working on a 1st draft for 4 months--finally finished it--the hardest ride ever for a 1st draft for me. I know this book will need a ton of work. I think the more we write, the more we know how much it takes to produce something better than what we've produced in the past.

    With your ed. letter and the process of writing book two, I'm guessing that you are being pushed beyond where you went w/your first book. I'm sure that's hard to remember when you are in the thick of it but when you look back at all you've accomplished with your writing I hope it becomes clear that you can keep traveling that path.

    I wish you the best with your rewrite. You can do it.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post, Jody!

  21. Your mom is a wise, wise woman. You can totally do this, Jody, don't worry. Yes, it takes time, but you're doing what you love, and what you do so well.

    I'm open to changes, I just wish I had a fairy godmother who would tell me exactly what needed to be done!

    Good luck with your revisions.

  22. Jody, again you have blessed my heart. Quitting seems like the evitable most days, until my Savior leads me to encouragement like this.

    He is constantly whirling me around that wheel:) And I am coming to the understanding that He is less concerned about my comfort and more driven to develop my character to resemble Him.
    I need to show the same diligence to my writing.

  23. This is something I've struggled with as well. I need to think of my ms more as a pliable piece of clay. ..and be less afraid to change it. Deep down I know it needs some major changes, I'm just baulking at the work involved. lol.

  24. Thanks for all of your encouragement today, everyone! It's so good to know we're all in this together! :-)

  25. Excellent analogy and great reminder, not only with writing, but with everything we attempt to do in life.

    Good luck to you during your journey. Hang in certainly have the right perspective.

    Thanks for the encouragement too! :)

  26. What a lovely analogy, Jody. Yes I have felt upset whenever I hear that I have to do extensive rewrites. But then, I realize that my editor wants the story to be the best that it can be and she does give extremely valuable feedback.

  27. Hang in there, sweet friend! Your friends and readers know you can do it.

    I do understand how hard it is to make our stories what they're supposed to be. I have rewritten my current story more times than I probably should have. But it has been a complete learning experience for me. I know how differently I'll approach the next story. The one thing that has encouraged me along this particular path is how much in love with my current story I am. It helps me realize that this story is worth seeing to the end - whatever that end may be.

    I sure would love to have your mother and her wise words on my team! :)

  28. Jody, I just read Kristen Lamb's review of your current release THE PREACHERS BRIDE and she LOVED it. So all the hard work is worth it in the end.

    Writing a first draft is easy. Getting to know the characters is easy. But revision? Hard work. It can be wonderful work, but it is hard and long and painful at times.

    I beat myself up over the process. I am a "messy" writer. I have to work very hard to circle in on my story no matter how much preliminary work I put into it. I keep asking myself and others when it will get easier. So far no one has an answer.

    I am embracing the process.

  29. hi jody,

    i came over from janna's blog and am so
    happy i did. i'm sort of an author groupie
    having sat next to some of the world's
    greatest writers every december.

    but, digress. i am soooo looking forward
    to reading your book, especially now that
    i know some of the heartbreak behind it.
    your potter analogy is wonderful.

    every author seems to have the same
    frustration. even a brilliant mind must
    edit, edit, edit.

    what i admire is a mind creative enough
    to invent a story. what would that be


  30. Been there, done that. Just think how much we are learning about the craft!!

  31. Jody,
    Thank you for sharing your journey on book 2 with us. I think there are some very valuable lessons for those of us that are starting out to learn here. And your mother is clearly a very wise women and it's wonderful that she happened to be there at the time to share that wisdom with you. I think your mindset about your writing is the best that it could be - it's all about producing the best finished product that we can; if that requires more work, then so be it. It's all part of the journey, but it's the final product that matters. And I have every faith that book 2 is going to be absolutely amazing after all this effort!

  32. I love the clay comparison. I get discouraged sometimes when I think of the domino effect changes I have to make in my novel following a recent writer's conference, but I know how much better it will be once I've made them. Thank you for the visual. I'll keep it with me while I revise this afternoon.


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