I’m working on a short story collection and one of the stories that I’m writing is in the epistolary form. One character is writing a letter to another character, and that’s the structure in which the story is told.
But the story didn’t start out that way. It started out like a regular story, a story told in the first person. It’s a POV that I feel very comfortable writing in. In fact, I would call it my go-to POV.
But the problem with this story was that although I liked it, I felt like it needed something more. The first person POV was working, but it also felt a bit ho-hum. It felt like more of the same.
My revision process always includes journaling about the story I’m working on. (Grab my free ebook on revision below if you want to learn more about this!). I was trying to figure out why I wasn’t excited about this story even though I liked it and I thought it was working. Through my revision process, I discovered that it was the form and structure of the story that needed some rethinking and that perhaps writing the story out as a letter might work better.
I decided to give it a try. I put on a timer for 20 minutes and just started free writing. When the timer went off, I knew I had my answer. I had written about three pages. My writing was neat and legible in the beginning and then it got messy and loopy towards the end because the words were coming fast and I was trying to catch them all before they left me. My excitement about the story was back. I had my answer for how to make this story work.
Trouble was, I couldn’t just add in a Dear ___ at the beginning, and Sincerely, ___ at the end. I had to rewrite the entire story. My character was now speaking to another character in the story. Everything had to change.
I want to say that I was so excited about this new discovery that I sat down that very day and rewrote the entire story.
But that’s not what happened.
What happened was that I sat on that story for almost half a year. Those two pages told me that I needed to rewrite the story in the new form. But everytime I thought about rewriting the story, I got anxious. What if I rewrite the whole thing and it turns out to be not so great? What if I’m imagining that the new version is better but the first version is actually perfectly fine? What if I ruin the story?
It took me several months to build up the courage to sit down and rewrite the story. The worst thing that could happen, I told myself, is that I rewrite the story and it doesn’t work and I go back to the first draft that I had. And no matter what happens, in the process, I’ll learn more about the epistolary form and what makes that form work or doesn’t work. So it would be a win-win.
I spent a full day rewriting that entire story. It still needs more work and I’m not done revising it yet, but I love the new version of it. Something about writing that story as a letter is working beautifully and every time I think about that story, I’m excited to work on it.
My takeaway from that experience is that it’s okay to feel nervous and worried about your writing, to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, or to feel unsure about whether what you’re trying to attempt is working or not.
More often than not, it’s a sign that you’re on the right track.
Your nerves and your anxiety are there because you’re challenging yourself, exploring new terrain, applying new skills. You’re stepping outside of your comfort zone. And although it can be scary and you might be tempted to just stick with what you know and what’s worked for you in the past, you’ll never know what more you’re capable of if you don’t try.
Embrace the uncertainty, but don’t give in to it. Write through it.
Even if the results don’t come out exactly how you imagined — that new POV you tried sounds awkward; the new structure feels forced; the rhythm of the sentences is off — you’ve still made progress. You’ve tried something different and gained new insights and understanding about what or how that thing you’re trying works and doesn’t work.
Our work as writers is never done.
There are always new things to learn, new ways to write our stories, and none of it will ever make us feel like we know exactly what we’re doing. But that’s part of the joy of it, isn’t? Being able to pull something off that you didn’t think was possible for you.
Keep writing. Keep trying new things in your writing. You never know if it will work until you try it.
During revision, a dull story can come to life in the most surprising and unexpected of ways. Revision doesn’t have to be hard. You can learn to enjoy the process and revise with confidence and clarity. Grab my ebook to learn about my revision process and how you can come to love revision too.
2 thoughts on “Taking risks as a writer”
Always love to read your thoughts about writing BUT especially revision. Thank you for allowing us to peek inside your process. I have also pulled out my copy of your revision guide and refreshed myself on your prompts! Thank you for your wonderful work.
Thank you for reading Tammy! I’m so glad the revision guide is beneficial and making an impact in your writing.