Jessica Bayliss is a fiction author with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology who loves all things reading and writing. Her work crosses genres including romance, urban fantasy, and horror. Although it’s typically advisable to focus on one audience, Jessica just can’t seem to settle down; she writes Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult and (eh hem) regular adult fiction. She is a member of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Because one cannot live on writing alone, Jessica also spends a great deal of time with friends and family. She is a lover of all animals especially one very special Havanese and one extremely ornery cockatiel. She also loves to cook, eat, and exercise (it’s all about balance, right?) and is a firm believer that coffee makes the world a better place.
Jessica is available for Skype Visits, Workshops, and talks about her books, writing, and related to her PsychWRITE workshops and webinars.
Today I want to talk about the fluidity of books and stories. This notion has been on my mind a lot for a few different reasons. Number one, I’ve been working on revisions of my own books, and I’m a Pitch Wars mentor, so revision is on my mind in general. But I’ve also been doing reading for critique partners, and it’s not uncommon to find little inconsistencies in books that are undergoing revision, which are often holdovers from previous drafts. So, a CP may say something like, “Oh, in the last draft, the character named Bessie was actually the MC’s best friend, but my editor said I needed a little more tension so we turned Bessie into a robot shark.” Okay, maybe I’ve never heard that exact line, but you get the point.
When I think about some of my books, and some I’ve read for friends, and then think about the way these books used to be, I’m often blown away by how different the finished product is from the original.
We can also flip this around. Next time you start a new book, try asking yourself: What was this book like in its first draft? And think about all the things that might have been different. Unless the book was written by a friend (or unless the author discloses details of their revision process), we will never know. But one thing I am certain of is that every book we purchase—whether from our local indie bookstore or downloaded to our e-reader—was very different in its earliest iteration.
I use that word deliberately: iteration. Because plotting and character development are iterative processes. I think about my own revisions on my debut novel, TEN AFTER CLOSING, or the one I just sent off to my editor—a book that I revised quite a bit on my own, then re-revised for my agent. If my editor decides she wants it, I’m sure I’ll do even more revision. Both of these books have had huge changes; it’s actually hard to wrap my brain around that, especially because I (naturally) thought they were both perfect before the changes (LOL!).
If you’ve read any of my blog posts, particularly my It’s a Writer Thing blog series, you know that I believe practice is the single most important thing we can do to be successful.
So, for me, practicing that process of major revisions, literally re-imagining big chunks of my books, has been an incredible learning experience. It’s taught me to be flexible. It’s taught me that new versions of my manuscript can feel just as right—more right even—than the original version. I’ve learned things about myself too: I know that changing something I love won’t kill me. I know I can get through and come out the other end feeling even better than ever about the MS. And I know it’s like this for other writers because they’re telling me about their own revision whirlwinds all the time.
Until the day the book goes to print, it’s a fluid entity, a shapeshifter without a true face. It can be anything.
So, here’s one weird tip. Take a book you’ve written (or a short story, or even a scene), and now rewrite it in an entirely different way. I know, that sounds crazy. You worked hard on that book and you probably love it; I know I loved mine. But try it. You don’t have to keep the new version. Just try rewriting it and pretending you’re going for an entirely different feel or different genre or just a different emotional dynamic in a particular scene. Put your all into it—pretend it’s for realz—and then see how you feel about the new version.
Perhaps you’ll still love your original more. Even if you do, you might find yourself getting totally wrapped up in this new imagining of your tale. You might discover all sorts of new ideas, exciting ones. Maybe you’ll never use them (or maybe a couple will find their way in the book in the end). Regardless of which draft you prefer, you will definitely see the stories in a new light. Gone will be the false belief that books and stories are static, that there is one way to tell this tale. And, hopefully, one day when you get revisions from your agent or your editor, you’ll know that you can make any changes they ask for and love them. Because you practiced it already.