The Supple Writer

Reading Nicki Chen’s great post on killing your darlings (click here for it) got me to thinking—always the sign of a great post. What was I thinking about? Being supple as a writer.

bending and moving easily and gracefully; flexible.

This is not a post telling people what to do or how to be. This is just a reflection on how life sometimes makes you into what you never thought you could be.

I’ve worked as a writer for two book packagers (click here if you aren’t sure what a book packager is) over the years (and publishers too). Rule #1: please the client. You write a book. Client says, “Hmmm. It’s okaaaaaay. But I want you to make changes.” You rewrite the book. Client says, “Hmmm. Still just okay. I want you to make changes.” You rewrite your rewrite. Client says, “Hmm. I liked it better the first time.” You pull out the first version of the book, having learned the hard way to always save every version of a project until the thing is published.

Gemma Stone after her last revision—badly in need of chocolate, coffee, and maybe a warm towel to throw over her face. Oh and maybe a hug.

Fickle clients? No, this is you on the treadmill of writing, learning that darlings get killed over and over, while your writer muscles get exercised. Not just darlings. Stuff you were just on a first date with. Gone.

Apple Blossom wonders what to change next in her manuscript since she’s been told to drop 5K words.

This is you, mainlining coffee and M&Ms as you work to meet each deadline, some of them as fierce as tigers, growling at you sooner than you would have liked (like you have a month or two to do the whole thing, despite having to revise two or three times).

Pinkie Pie is on the fourth revision of her novel. She thinks maybe the chicken could write the book better by now.

Supple—when you learn how to write a picture book three different ways because you had to.

Supple—when you get the word from on high to start the whole thing over just because.

Supple—when you’re waiting on feedback that might mean having to go to Plan B.

When have you had to be flexible in your writing? Please tell the full tale in the comments below.

Another post on killing your darlings:

Photos by L. Marie. Pinkie Pie is from the My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set by My Little Pony. Gemma Stone Shoppie and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys.

32 thoughts on “The Supple Writer

  1. Since I’m an indie author, I don’t commonly run into having to change things because someone asked for it. Not to say I haven’t had readers demand that I rewrite a book because they didn’t like part of the story. To be honest, I’ve altered things when it feels like they aren’t working and nobody likes it, but an all out change hasn’t occurred. My characters and own whims tend to cause these changes more often than outside influences.

      • Actually, yes. The ‘Crossing Bedlam’ cover got changed by having the characters removed after people said it was cartoon-y. It was strange because the initial reveal had everyone saying it looked great. Then, it was like another group showed up to complain after the release and some who cheered before jumped sides. It makes it hard to take criticism seriously at times.

  2. Supple, flexible, nimble. Yes, indeedy, I’ve had to assume these pretzel poses many times during the course of my memoir writing. For example, my first reader said, “Trust readers to make the application to themselves. My editor says, “Takeaway is primo. You must state the universal truth.” Well, . . .

    And, yes, I have had to kill a few of darlings. One became a magazine article, so it’s not really dead, just reincarnated. Great post, Marie.

    • Thanks, Marian. And how cool that your writing gained another life as an article. 😀 😁 It’s good to know that nothing is wasted!

      The universal truth, eh? Interesting feedback. Sometimes it’s hard to discern what might be applicable to all.

  3. I like Marian’s story of one of her darlings becoming a magazine article: “it’s not really dead, just reincarnated.” I’m thinking along those lines with my current WIP, that the parts I might choose to lop off because they don’t fit in the novel might actually be better as a short story or a bit of flash fiction. You know, I just love how you illustrate your posts with your little friends like Gemma Stone, Apple Blossom, and Pinkie Pie!

  4. “learning that darlings get killed over and over”

    I like that line and I have to admit that most of my collegiate academic experiences revolved around that very concept. You’re right in that one must be supple, and adaptable, and able to please other people without losing oneself in the process. Kind of like life in general, I guess.

  5. I had to unkill a character. Problem is, I didn’t know how badly the editor wanted that character unkilled until three months of going back and forth and a lot of frustration on her part. She did make me see how the ending could work with the character still alive — and I really liked how the ending worked out — but my stubbornness led to my getting a difficult reputation. Lesson learned! I’ve now learned how to communicate better and not to hold on to my darlings if I know the reason why they have to go.

  6. I’d never heard of book packagers before, but looking at the description I’m guessing they maybe put together a lot of “coffee table” type of books? Do they do a lot of fiction too?

    • There are all kinds of book packagers. Yes, some do fiction. Some of the bestselling YA novels gained a start at a book packager. The companies I worked for did the projects that publishers were too busy to do but wanted done quickly.

  7. I’d never heard of a book packager before. What kinds of books did you personally work on? You really have had to be flexible it sounds like. When I saw your first image, I was reminded to do some stretching exercises tomorrow.

    Thank you for the link to my blog.

    • Glad to link to it! For one book packager, I worked on textbooks. For another devotionals, Bible storybooks, novellas, fact books–whatever the clients wanted.

      Some VCFA alums write for a young adult novel book packager.

    • Hi, Andy. I’ve never cut a character that I regretted cutting. I’ve had advisors who told me to cut characters who weren’t working well or didn’t seem needed. For instance, I gave a twin brother to a character. But he didn’t serve much of a purpose, so he had to go. Oddly enough, I’ve been told to give more scenes to characters I had planned to cut or had only confined to one chapter. Readers saw more potential in those characters than I did at first. 😀 Usually I’m a firm believer in putting characters in other books if they don’t work in a particular book.

  8. Great post, L. Marie, and you have me “a-thinking” over here. I’m not a writer, so, have not needed to be flexible in writing, other than descriptive pieces for charity-type things, which I have had to cut words, though last year I had to add words, at the last minute, which was really odd.
    Years ago now, when I had to give speeches when I ran for school board, there were times when the time allotted was short. It was an interesting exercise trying to convince others in a three minute speech. haha

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