Do You Refuse to Let Your Writing Evolve?

 In Creativity, Writing

Recently I was working on an article pitch that I couldn’t get to work. No matter what I did, something was wrong, and I had rewritten it so many times that it no longer had anything to do with my outline. I was stumped and cranky so decided to take a break.

Then I opened my email and found a post by Rob Hatch of Human Business Works.

I subscribed to Rob’s emails a few months ago and look forward to each of them. They are generally short, useful pieces about productivity, success, and human interactions among other things. In this week’s email, Rob quoted from a radio interview with Linda MacArthur Miele, the artistic director of the Maine State Ballet.

Linda talked about the balance that a choreographer must find between the abilities of her dancers and the idea in her head. She said, “You can’t be married to your choreography. You can’t say, ‘I want you to do that step’ and the child can’t do that step well. You have to be willing to change that step because it’s not just about the choreography. It’s about making those dancers look the absolute best you can make them look.” This quote immediately helped me understand where I had gone wrong with my pitch (back to that in a minute).

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a short story with a character who won’t co-operate, an essay where your theory and evidence don’t match, or a feature article for a major consumer magazine. If you’re inflexible and unwilling to let your vision evolve, you’re going to run into problems.

Let’s take a short story as an example and assume you’ve done a bang-up job of creating an outline that sets up your characters, setting, and plot.

Using this outline, you’ve developed two characters who are multi-dimensional even within the word limits of the genre. But they refuse to work together. Now let’s say that you barge ahead anyway without taking the time to examine the problem. What’s going to happen? Most likely your story will implode. Why? Because you’re married to the choreography you decided on in the planning stage – you already know what’s going to happen and have no intention of changing your mind.

What would happen if you went off script and altered the outline? Maybe one or both of these characters don’t actually belong in this story, but in a different one. Or, maybe your plot needs to shift to accommodate the characters. Just like a choreographer accommodating her dancers, you, as a writer, have to be willing to make allowances for the directions your writing takes you.

That’s not to say an outline isn’t important, simply that you need to be flexible and willing to explore what happens once you actually start writing.

So where did I go wrong with my pitch? It was ridiculously easy once I thought about it: In my case, the outline was fine, but I was trying to write for the wrong market. There are thousands of magazines to pitch to and I managed to pick the wrong one. Fortunately, it’s an easy fix. A little research to find a better market and the rewrite is going well.

Likely I would have figured it out eventually, but Rob’s email came at just the right time. And that leads to something else that I’ve learned since starting this blog – inspiration can come from anywhere. But that’s a post for another day!


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