You’re in the middle of something completely unrelated to writing. As often happens when you’re away from your story, you get an idea – but this idea isn’t like any you’ve had for your book so far. It’s different. It goes against everything you thought your characters would do. Executing this new element would change everything – and that makes you nervous.
There’s a reason why you’re nervous. No one likes to have their plans changed at the last minute. But there’s also a reason behind this prompt to change the course of your story for the better. It’s not your mind playing tricks on you, trying to over-complicate your writing process. It’s your story, trying to tell you it’s ready to grow.
Have things turned out for you the way your parents dreamed they would? Honestly, probably not. It’s the same way with your book. You have a lot of plans for its future. You know how it starts, where it heads and how it ends. But that doesn’t mean you’d be disappointed if things didn’t go exactly the way you hoped. In the end, you know you’ll be proud of it no matter what.
So though this new idea you have might mean your whole book will change – that’s OK. Part of authoring a novel is knowing that at some point, you’re going to have to do what’s best for your story … even if it means doing things differently than you necessarily want to.
Your plans will change. Your story can’t help it – it’s just following its true course.
This doesn’t mean planning ahead is a waste of time. Even if you don’t end up following your original “outline” point by point, there’s still that incentive there to keep moving forward. It just means you have to be willing to deviate from your original plan.
Your story evolves the more invested you are in its pages. The same way a first draft is never the best a book can be, certain things you imagine will belong in your story don’t always end up belonging there. It’s OK to change your mind. It’s necessary to go with the natural flow of your creativity, even if it’s headed somewhere you aren’t sure you want to go.
I will never forget my most intense experience with this. It’s the most extreme case – if it happens to you, in many ways, I’m happy for you – but I’m also sorry. I was at my desk job, typing numbers into text fields, listening to a writing podcast, when I realized the story I had been working on for over a year could not continue on. If I wanted to write it, I needed to change it – completely. I needed to start over. The reason it had taken so long to write even half of it was because it needed to go in a completely different direction.
Did I want to rewrite everything I’d already spent so much time working on? Of course not. It took a long time to do that, too. But I agreed – because that’s what was best for my book, and I knew it. I eventually finished writing it, and though I have yet to go back and edit it, I’m still proud of it. More proud than I would have been if I’d kept on course with a story that wasn’t really working.
It’s scary, realizing you have to give up your control like that. But there are some hidden aspects of our creativity we can’t reach ourselves. The only way to set them free is to let creativity take over. Sometimes that means everything changes. But it is always for the better in the end – you’ll see.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.