During my recent round of revisions, a fellow creative gave me some great advice.
Don’t be afraid to break it.
Some of our best work happens when we’ve given ourselves the creative freedom to scrap a scene or a chapter and start fresh. When you’ve labored long and hard over something, this can sound terrifying. We can become so attached to our idea of how something should be, that we don’t make room for what something can be.
My agent challenged me with this last summer. My manuscript was strong, and we were eager to send it on submission to publishers . . . but. She decided things could be better. Mostly subtle tweaks and not-so-subtle worldbuilding development.
And she asked me to “maybe try” writing a brand new opening chapter.
I loved my opening chapter. She loved the opening chapter! What was she thinking? Turns out, she’s pretty smart—and she understood what this approach could lead to.
I began freewriting new opening. In each new version, I discovered setting and character details I liked, bits of dialogue that really came off the page, and even—a new inciting incident that was stronger than what I had originally.
My book sold with the original opening. But during my first round of revisions with my editor, my perspective was more mature. I was wiser. I had learned to trust myself to break something and make room for something even better. I wrote a brand new chapter and my editor loved it. Ironically, much of what I pulled from came from the freewriting I’d done before submission.
FLASHFALL is a richer story because my agent pushed me, and I had the courage to break a chapter I had honed and revised for months.
I used to think of my manuscript like a carefully woven tapestry. Every time someone suggested a change, it felt like I was pulling out a thread. When my editor asked for major cuts or structural edits, I imagined myself hacking it apart with scissors. It terrified me because I wasn’t sure how I’d ‘fix’ it.
I’ve learned that breaking apart what I’ve written doesn’t inherently ‘ruin’ it, but rather, provides an opportunity to make it better than it was before.
Now I think of scenes more like rocks that I’ve shaped over time and carefully polished. They can be pretty, but if you break open the right one, you discover a geode that is stunning.
I use this technique whenever a character or dialogue feel flat, when I struggle to develop a plot point, or if I’m having a hard time with an editor’s or critique partner’s suggestions. I break it apart and allow myself to try it a new way.
Coming at a story problem from a new angle can unlock fresh ideas and images—the gems you didn’t even know you were looking for.
Jenny Moyer is the author of YA sci-fi/fantasy FLASHFALL (Holt/Macmillan, fall 2016) She studied writing at Seattle Pacific University, and currently lives in Iowa with her filmmaker husband and three boys. She's currently at work on the sequel to FLASHFALL.
Where to find Jenny: Website, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube
Where to find FLASHFALL: Goodreads