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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

The danger of falling in love with your own words…

A SECTION of my plot has been proving very problematic. Research proved that what I wanted to happen was theoretically but not really physically possible… Although I could have stretched the truth, ultimately I want what happens to be grounded in reality.

I stubbornly refused to give up though. I spent days researching around and around and around this problem. I couldn’t give up this idea, so I tried to force it to fit, writing a huge section of the set up, and the aftermath. Fabulous pages that I was really pleased with.

It didn’t change the fact the idea did not work. I contacted experts, and asked their opinion. I basically banged my head against a brick wall.

Every way around the problem felt wrong to me. The fact was, if I was going to use my Great Idea (it was so good it deserved capitalisation) I would have to fudge facts to such a degree that it made me feel uncomfortable.

Eventually I forced myself to think the unacceptable: Maybe I should give up, and find an alternative.

 Sharp gasp of horror. Beating of chest. Wailing. Gnashing of teeth. You get the general melodrama of the moment.

In desperation, I talked it through with a friend; always a good idea to talk things over with someone who can give you perspective.  And they made a casual, throwaway suggestion, which I rejected – of course.

Eventually I took a day away from the novel, and devoted myself entirely to journalism. And that’s when I found myself suddenly remembering one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given as a journalist. I was a cub reporter sitting beside an elderly hack called Eric, who was well past retirement age.

 “Don’t ever fall in love with your words,” he advised. “Never be afraid to cut something you know needs cutting, simply because you have lost perspective and love what you have written.”

This was especially true at the time because I was writing news. Things change so rapidly sometimes on a news desk that the 700 word piece you have just carefully crafted suddenly has to be reduced to a seventy-five word paragraph in order to make room for a bigger story that has just happened.

The context may have been different, but the advice still rang true. I realised I had made the terrible mistake of falling in love with my own words. One of the reasons I was being so stubborn about my idea was because I had written so much of it already, and the thought of simply dumping all those lovely pages of manuscript… Well, it didn’t put a smile on my face!

Once I realised my mistake though, suddenly things started falling into place. My friend’s suggestion was actually brilliant. Within minutes I had realised how I could use it to push both the plot AND the characterisation forward. It was actually a better fit that my original idea. More ideas sparked and soon I knew exactly what I needed to do.

It takes a type of courage to step away from words that have already been written. To say, “They are great…but they have to go.” But that’s what I have to do. Now I face the prospect of writing this new section. But you know what? I will have a better book as a result.

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