The other day two things happened that seemed so connected, I had to share them. Within the same hour, I learned that a close friend is going through a significant breakup and received an ultra-thoughtful card from another friend I adore. Not seeing the link? Hang with me.
When I called the first friend, I was amazed at the calm confidence in her voice. She barely had to utter three sentences for me to know that she was definitely breaking UP, not down. I read the card’s message straight to her: “Bold is beautiful…and so are you.” Now do you see???
When managed properly, I believe that breakups can serve as catalysts for the most empowering, fulfilling, growth-filled and joyous experiences of our lives. Think about it. We don’t say we’re breaking down with someone. Sure, we may experience a breakdown before or during, but the right partings of ways life us up…eventually.
While I haven’t experienced a romantic breakup since I met my husband six years ago, I have undergone other types. I’ve “broken up” with my acting career, a close girlfriend and, most recently, a sweet elderly woman my agent suggested I ex-nay from my book. None of these breakups were easy, but there was no “dumping” involved. And much like the romantic breakups I’ve endured, I learned and grew from each one.
Yesterday, I finished a major novel revision. With my friend’s bold and beautiful breakup in mind, I’ve been struck by the parallels between revising our personal lives and revising creative work. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from both processes:
What the Revision Process Can Teach Us About Relationships—And Vice Versa
1. Listen to your instincts. If your novel begs to be written in a particular style, genre or tense, do it—regardless of what seems practical marketing wise. If we try to please everyone but ignore our gut feelings, our story is likely to fall flat. Same for relationships. And if after meeting a guy you, say, sleep with mace in your hand? Don’t date him. Not that I’ve done that. Or anything.
2. Consider your motivation. If you feel confused as to who or what to take out, add to or leave in your novel, consider why you wrote it in the first place. Just as motivating factors fuel our characters’ actions, they fuel our composition. Though my draft has changed significantly, the story I wished to tell from day one hasn’t. If you’re unsure whether to stay in a relationship, ask yourself why you joined it in the first place and why you might stay or leave. Love, like, family and happiness are great reasons to work things out. Loneliness, fear and codependency, not so much.
3. If a character or scene doesn’t enhance your story, cut it. Not only does this make sense from a practical standpoint, keeping the train moving in the right direction and preventing reader boredom, it leaves room in the story for characters and scenes that do enhance it. I’ve found the same to be true with relationships. The busier we become, the more difficult it is to nurture plentiful close friendships. Choose wisely and nurture those who mean the most and bring the most to you. For the others, heck. We have Facebook.
4. Become a plantser: plotter + pantser. I am by nature a seat-of-the-pants-er. But the revision process has taught me the value of planning head. With no plan, we run the risk of writing ourselves off the deep end, in way too many directions and into a tangle of confusion. If we don’t allow for wiggle room, however, we may short ourselves of fabulous characters, scenes and plot twists. In regards to relationships, don’t stay in one solely because it was part of your plan or for fear of the unknown that follows. And don’t choose your mate based on your “outline” of criteria. He or she may not look anything like that page your tore out of GQ or Glamour, or have the job, interests or personality you expect.
5. Don’t compromise your non-negotiables. There was an important word in my first chapter I was asked to change. I considered it, pictured it, even tried typing other options. But it hurt. A lot. So my original choice stayed put. From what I’ve seen, most agents, publishers, editors and readers leave the details and final decisions largely up to you. As the talented author and editor Mike Sirota once told me, “You are the goddess of your book.” We are also the gods/goddesses of our lives. Compromising our personal goals, dreams or values for the sake of another seldom provokes happiness.
For more on romance and revising, check out these fantastic links:
Girls with Pens: The Business of Writing with James Scott Bell
Bartlette’s Integrated Health Journal: The Healing Power of Love
Mike Sirota: Romantic Horror: An Oxymoron?
Ingrid Shaffenburg: When Someone Shows You Who They Are
Natalie Hartford: A Palooza of Romance: Hubby’s Top 5
Psychology Today: Ten Tips to Survive a Breakup
What have you learned from breakups—romantic or otherwise? Any of the above lessons resonate with you? I always love hearing from you.