Turning Points: In Which I Learn to Let Go and Let the Characters Be in Charge: Guest Post by Amy Reed

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Amy Reed revealing hers…

Guest post by Amy Reed

I feel like I’ve talked a lot lately about the major turning point in my career as a writer. It was both the moment I discovered I was meant to write YA and the change in course that catapulted me towards publication. (If you’re interested in that story, check out my “How I Got My Agent” guest blog at WritersDigest.com.)

But what’s been on my mind lately is a different kind of turning point, the one that comes inside a project, that joyous moment when a writer realizes “Hey, this project might actually be good” (or, for me: “This might actually not suck.”) I’ve had this distinct experience writing all my books—BEAUTIFUL, CLEAN, CRAZY (coming out TOMORROW, June 12th!), and just recently with my fourth novel in progress. (Technically, this is my fifth if we count the unfinished attempt before it. Incidentally, I was never able to reach the elusive turning point moment in that one; hence, letting it go.)

In each of these four books, I began with some nebulous ideas, a notebook of scribbles, and a rough outline in my head, everything still very much out of focus. Then came some awkward renderings of scenes, incoherent character sketches, and eventually some chunks of keep-able prose that connected to other chunks of keep-able prose, tiny moments of inspiration fused together by sweat, stubbornness and willpower.

This is the most athletic part of my writing process, when all my brain muscles burn as I try to beat the story into submission, as I attempt to hold onto every little detail, in total fear of anything getting away from me. This is a manic time, an emotional rollercoaster, full of ego-bursting joy and debilitating self-doubt. I am lifted by moments of inspiration only to be thrown into despair; I am lost, flailing around in the dark, desperately trying to grab onto anything, just wanting something to assure me I’m in control. This is the part of the journey that is defined by fear—fear that I’m not good enough, that the story isn’t good enough, that I’m a big fat failure and should just give up and stop writing completely.

Here is my truth: the beginning of a project is terrifying. But with that terror also comes excitement, those little gems of inspiration and awesomeness that keep me going, the sparks that keep hope alive. And if I follow that hope long enough, if I am patient and trusting of this crazy process, something amazing happens: the turning point—the moment I realize I’m on the right path and everything’s going to be okay. This is when I start to let go, when I stop grasping onto control, when I stop gritting my teeth so much, when my shoulders start to relax. This is when I let my characters off their leashes.

For me, this is key: characters need to have lives of their own. I must stop being the overbearing mother. I must stop wanting them to be perfect. Only when I let go and give them the freedom to find themselves, when I stop thinking so much and just write—this is what takes my work to the next level. I’ve heard other writers describe this experience, this “being in the zone,” where it feels less like you doing something and more like you’re at the service of your characters; you’re a channel for a creative voice that exists outside yourself, a voice that speaks through you as if you’re some kind of psychic medium (I think it is no accident that creative people are more likely to be crazy….)

I used to think this feeling just came out of nowhere, that it was some miracle I was randomly selected to experience. But I realize now I very much had something to do with it. I earned that miracle. I showed up and I worked and I kept writing even though I sometimes wanted to stop. The thing about my Muse is she’s more likely to show up when I do.  And she tends to like to stick around once I’ve reached my turning point, when I’ve handed control over to my characters and I finally let them tell me what they want, when they come alive with their own passions and fears, when they become more than the scaffolding I constructed, when they turn from black and white to color. Sometimes what they want turns out to be different than what I planned for them, but I’m okay with that. Because in the end, they’re the ones in charge, not me.

Amy Reed is the author of the contemporary YA novels BEAUTIFUL, CLEAN, and CRAZY. She lives in Oakland, CA. Find out more on her website: www.amyreedfiction.com

Amy’s newest novel, CRAZY, is on sale tomorrow, June 12! 

There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

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