Monday, December 14, 2015

Serve the Work

As 2015 comes to a close, my writing news ends on a high note. After many, many rewrites, Mr. Agent says my manuscript passes muster and we can send it out to publishers in January, after the holiday chaos. I am beside myself with relief and excitement. Just when I came close to giving up on this story, I stuck with it. Maybe the gamble will pay off. Whatever happens, I take comfort in knowing I did my best. I also look forward to finally returning to the business of writing after such a long hiatus and reporting the process to you, dear blog reader, along the way. 

There is one small detail to attend to before Mr. Agent sends out the manuscript. It's a plot point that happens in the third act that he feels needs to be reworked. At first look it seems an easy fix, but as I move deeper into the changes I realize it ripples out and affects many scenes. Whether I make the changes or not is entirely optional and up to me--but his feeling was that since we're waiting until January, why not?

I've given his suggestion a lot of thought and I've decided to go for it. If it doesn't work, we can always revert to the previous version. Part of the reason why I'm taking on the challenge is that the change we came up with together is actually an idea I had pursued many drafts ago, but had abandoned. Why? Because even though the story led me there, it didn't feel literary enough to me. It was too obvious, predictable. I wanted to create something more subtle, nuanced. 

Looking back now, I can see many instances when I tried to steer the story instead of letting it steer me. And what happened? I veered off course. Trying to make the story something it was not cost me a lot of time and pages. 

On a whim, I borrowed a copy of Madeleine L'Engle's WALKING ON WATER: Reflections on Faith and Art from my local library. Shortly after my conversation with my agent I came across the following passage (don't you love it when this happens?) which refers to her process of working on A WRINKLE IN TIME, her masterpiece:

"I began to comprehend something about listening to the work, about going where it shoved me. And so the long two years of rejection slips which followed were especially difficult; it wasn't just that my work was being rejected; or, if it was, it meant that I had not even begun to serve the work."

Serve the work. Yes. This is what I've been learning. When we get in the way of a piece by trying to make it something it is not--either by deciding the story isn't lofty enough or it's in a particular genre we don't care for--we ruin it. Our job as writers is to accept the story as is and let it guide us into being. Our choice, our art, comes from how we tell that story. This is where we can let our heads rules our hearts. 

Is there a story you're stuck on? Think for a moment--are you trying to make it something it's not?

See you in 2016.

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