Sunday, March 1, 2020

If I Could Change One Thing ... Some Self-Reflection by Brenda Chapman

What element of the craft is the one you most need to improve?

One of the constants of writing, as in life, is that there's always room for improvement, I’d say, in every aspect of the craft. Yet this week’s question asks to select the element that gives me the most trouble. 


The first thing that comes to mind is organization -- i.e., keeping the plot points and details straight. I'm definitely a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of writer. After a few chapters, I always think, I really should make notes  ... of the characters, their defining attributes, and plot points. Sometimes, I even start start keeping track. Usually, by chapter ten,  I've mislaid my notebook but instead of stressing, I decide to keep winging it. Keep the momentum going.

The trouble comes when I start backtracking and realize if x happened then y could not possibly. This leads to tinkering, rewriting (sometimes big chunks of text) and a reworking of the plot. I don't always catch the errors before submitting the manuscript. The book can be going through its final review with my editor when one comes to light. For example, in one of my earlier books, I had a character driving a van in the first chapters but the van morphed into a car later on. I only caught this after the book had gone to the printer, but we managed to make the change in time. On a few occasions, the book is already in print when a sharp-eyed reader finds an inconsistency.

Another failing that feeds into this issue is my terrible memory for names. Usually, at least once in a manuscript, I get somebody's name wrong. Happily, my editor has caught most of them but once in a while, an incorrect name slips past all of us. On my urging, the editor has put a note on my file for the copy editor to search for these slip-ups.

I confess that I've always worked best in a bit of chaos. Even back in university, my desk would be stacked with papers and books and disarray. Yet I'd always manage to pull the pages of notes and quotes into a coherent essay ... and those were the days before computers. I probably would have given up writing novels by now if it wasn't for the computer. (I understand there's a software writing program to help with organizing a manuscript but I haven't gotten myself organized enough to order it.)

I can't tell you how many times I've started and stopped cleaning out my office, a space that resembles the inside workings of my brain. The best move I made in this regard was to buy a filing cabinet which I've filled with papers and files that used to  clutter up my desk. I keep meaning to go through the lot when I get a chance, but turns out, I'd rather cut off an arm. (Plus I can't see any of it in the filing cabinet.)

To counter this self-professed element most needing improvement, I'll also provide one where I excel. I'm really good at ignoring mess and carrying on as if Martha Stewart is in charge of my life. I've learned to work around my disorganized self to get done what needs doing, and to not stress about my failing. I've learned to  find happiness in simply keeping the momentum going and closing my eyes to the rest ...

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Terry said...

Brenda, I had already written my post for tomorrow, but I think I could easily have chosen the same topic as you did. I think of myself as organized, but there always comes a time in a book when I think, "Uh, oh, the kid wouldn't be in school that day. It's Sunday." Or snow? In July? Probably not. I promise myself I'll keep a running timeline, but even then I find that I can get off base. Crazy business.

Brenda Chapman said...

Hi Terry - yes, I'm always trying to remember the details. It gets harder with every book in a series! I look forward to reading your post tomorrow.