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1 January 2014 ·

New Year’s Resolutions: Feeling Free and Playing with Your Work

I started an eleventh hour revision of Rescue on Nim’s Island yesterday. If all had gone to plan, it would have already been copy-edited, which would mean it was too late for a major redraft. However, luckily enough as it turned out, life intervened and I was a few weeks late meeting my deadline. My editor still intended to have the copyedit done before the end of the year – but a few weeks ago she emailed to say she wasn’t going to be able to do it till January. Did I mind? Hmm, that was a hard one: did I mind not having a right-after-Christmas deadline?
I should probably explain here: the copyedit is when the editor goes through the manuscript paragraph by paragraph, line by line and word by word. A comma here, break that sentence in half, two sentences in a row have exactly the same rhythm and syntax, this paragraph really isn’t clear – and did you really mean to use that word again? Nitpicking and essential. But it means that the story’s already gone through a structural edit, and that now editor and author have agreed that it’s in essentially the right shape and that the author’s just finished a final draft or five getting it to what feels like as perfect as possible. (A transient feeling, quickly squashed.)
It’s not the time for a major redraft. And since I’ve decided I have to do it, and my editor’s agreed it’s probably a good idea, it has to be done fast.
Not a huge change, I tell myself. Just a few changes in the opening scene. In the whole introduction and first chapter. And dialogue throughout. And the characters’ emotions – that backbone behind plot.  That’s all.
Never mind that changing a point of view in an opening scene is going to ripple through the whole book.
Never mind that inserting a sentence or two changes the pattern of all the paragraphs that lead up to it or from it.
Never mind that the manuscript’s finished. Scenes segue, sentences have rhythm, commas and words are the way I want them.
I hesitate; I delete a crucial sentence, undo the delete, try adding a new sentence instead.
Then I come to my senses. I copy the document, paste it into a new one and rename it. It’s just a game, I tell myself. If I don’t like it, the old one is still there. And just like that, I’m free. The scenes can dance, the words can jump and skip and settle into new and unimagined patterns. I can play.
And maybe that’s it with life too. Some things are real and serious and can’t be changed – but many can. Sometimes we’ll never know whether we made the absolutely best decision. We just have to let ourselves be free to play and choose what seems the best at the time. The more of a game it seems, the freer we feel, the more likely we are to love it – and isn’t that a definition of a good life decision?
Whatever other New Year’s resolutions you make, try to feel free to  play and enjoy your writing, your work… your life.
Happy 2014. 

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio