I was recently engaged in an online conversation where writers were talking about their editing process. The initial poster said something along the lines of, “The way I edited my previous book isn’t working for this one.” An author in this group whose 3rd book comes out later this year said, “I’m editing my fourth book right now, and none of them have been the same.”
I’ve heard more than one writer mention that they thought they knew what they were doing until they started the next book. And I’ve heard many people in response to such statements express how disheartening that is.
But I bet, if we are willing to really take a look at why we are writing and what we want to write, it is exactly the thing that needs to happen.
Let me explain.
When I was growing up, there was an author whose work I loved. I discovered this writer after several works had been released, so I was able for some time to jump from book to book, marveling at character development and plot and twists and setting. For a long LONG time, the work of this author made me consider working in a career similar to what many of the characters did.
Then, the author started becoming affiliated with lots of books.
Like too many for one person to possibly write and write well.
At first, I decided to just stop buying the books that featured this author with someone else, to only read new solo creations, but they’d all become formulaic. Instead of clinging to every word and wondering what was going to happen next to the characters, I skimmed pages, predicting what would happen next and then nodding with dissatisfaction when I was right.
That author stopped struggling through new ideas, new characters, new plots and, as far as I was concerned, had started writing for a paycheck. Now, of course all of us would like to make money from our writing, but it felt overwhelmingly like the author had checked out, was interested only in the money, and, I suspected, didn’t even read what was being associated with their name.
Essentially, this author stopped learning.
When it comes to writing, there are more things to learn than mechanical and grammatical nuances. There is a necessity to look at what people are experiencing and to hone in on what made them experience that. And there is a necessity for us to push beyond the formulaic in order to really learn about ourselves, our characters, our craft, our readers.
I recently had the chance to engage with and then listen to Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education, psychology and neuroscience as USC where she currently conducts research at the Brain and Creativity Institute. In our smaller discussion, she said,
“Our beliefs and our habits are both emotional and cognitive. To rework, you have to relive, to be willing to experience again in a different way. The onus is on the person to be willing to engage again, but differently, acknowledging that evidence will be filtered through emotional filters.”
If we don’t struggle, if we can simply crank out story after story without a range of emotions from our process, we essentially stop progressing. We absolutely need to have the cognitive awareness of fundamentals of communication, but to convey what I suspect many of us are trying to convey, we DO have to experience it again and again BUT DIFFERENT. The characters, the setting, the plot are all unique to their particular book – even in a series – and will feel and act and need to be sculpted in a way that is unique to them. But by doing this, we as the creators, and our prospective readers, all have the opportunity to eventually feel satisfied.
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.