Beautiful Breakups: What the Revision Process Can Teach Us

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.

Leave a comment

37 Comments

  1. I love your correlations and think you are right. When I first started writing a year ago, I didn’t want to edit one line. Now I have no problem deleting pages to get a good story. I pray to God that is what I have in the end…..I….just…..need….to….finish…it….

    Reply
    • I used to feel that same way, Susie. I still keep a file called “omits,” in case I decide to reinsert deleted text. Guess how often that (never) happens??? 😉 Good luck with your book!

      Reply
  2. Reblogged this on LE ARTISTE BOOTS and commented:
    Sounds like good advice.

    Reply
  3. I’m still on my break from my draft. I’m saving all these revision posts that are coming my way. My most significant break up related to a job I loved, but had to leave. Lots of drama at work and in my personal life (my late husband’s medical condition). I survived and it was the best decision for my family and me. It gave me several different work experiences that have contributed in many ways to my life. Less than two years later, I was given an opportunity to return to that career and on my first day — it was like I never left.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad your job breakup turned out for the best, Stacy. Some of the toughest lead to the greatest rewards—one reason perseverance is vital.

      Best of luck with your revision, whenever you get to it. Stepping away from my work between drafts has definitely helped freshen the eyes. 😉

      Reply
  4. This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read August. Wow. I love it!! Such key ingredients for living and loving. So often I see others and myself trying desperately to fit round peg into square hole in writing, life, relationships. You tips above all speak to living authentically and to staying true to you and what you know deep down is best for you. Amen to that!
    I married my first husband because “it was time”. The breakup was painful and many people (including some of those closest to me) did not understand nor support my decision to leave. But in the end, it was the first time I trusted my gut and did what I KNEW to be right for me. That break up was the largest and most significant catalyst for growth within myself ever and I believe was key to my finding inner peace and happiness. Had I stayed, I would have shrivelled up in depression and unhappiness. By honoring all five of your lessons above, my life exploded and dreams have come true. Now…to apply to my writing! 🙂
    I just adore you and the wonderful messages you share! Here’s to you…and the wonderment you bring to the world!
    HUGS!!!!

    Reply
    • Have I ever told you you’re like a human rainbow?! 😉 Thanks so much for your support and wonderful insight, Natalie. I’ve faced similar resistance from friends during breakups… We don’t just break up with people, but from the life we knew and others’ expectations and beliefs. I bet many people avoid beneficial breakups for that very reason. Good for you for sticking to what you knew was right!

      Reply
  5. ontheothersideofsomeday

     /  March 9, 2012

    great post and great thoughts!

    Reply
  6. Sound and sage advice August. I’m not an author, but I would like the vignettes that I write to project, to anyone who happens to read them, what I was feeling at the time. That desire has resulted in many frustrating re-writes that sometimes result in loss of the original motivation you mention in #2 of this post. So now I’m trying to learn how to step back let the thing go. .

    Bob Cloud

    Reply
    • Stepping back and letting go are often challenging steps, Bob. I’ve found that stepping away from a project I’m frustrated with even for a short time refreshes my motivation. Seeing a work with fresh eyes also helps in regards to finishing. Best of luck with your vignettes! So glad this post struck a chord with you.

      Reply
  7. Another insightful and informative post August.

    I have to agree we can always learn from a breakup.

    Thx

    Reply
  8. You are the best at taking complete dichotomies and making them work together! Plantser ~ that’s such a great way to think about it if you’re really a pantser but find yourself with way too many words. Not that I did that, mind you, but other writers might have.

    Sometimes making the final cut is hard, but after a little while, it’s easier to breathe. Whether in life or in the book. Thanks for the pep talk.

    Reply
    • It’s funny “other” writers have all of these problems, right?? Sheesh. Good thing we’re here to clarify! 😉 😉 (Wisdom comes from trudging through mistake-ville, right?)

      I think of my first draft as getting it all out, and the second as carving away the unnecessary. I imagine I’ll always have loads of excess words at first. Fine by me, so long as the good ones stick.

      Reply
  9. Brilliant August, absolutely brilliant. I was nodding all the way through. This is a fabulous analogy.

    BTW, you’re right, Natalie is a human rainbow!

    Reply
  10. Like Raelyn, I was nodding all the way through. And I LAUGHED when you called Natalie a human rainbow. Not because it was funny, but because it was spot on and I hadn’t seen it until right then. Thank you, August. I really needed to read this today.

    Reply
  11. Catherine Johnson

     /  March 9, 2012

    It is so uncanny that I read this today, you must be able to read my mind. As of today I have fewer commitments and Facebook for the rest as you say. You’re not good to anyone spread too thin. Have a lovely weekend 🙂

    Reply
    • Hmm… I have had my psychic moments! 😉 So glad this found you at an ideal time, Catherine. Hope you have a great weekend, too!

      Reply
  12. I love the parallels you’ve drawn! Beautifully done and so true 🙂 This is one that’s getting bookmarked. And thank you for including the Girls With Pens link. It’s much appreciated.

    Reply
  13. Right on August! I love your top five!

    Now as far as a break-up and not down. I had never thought about that. But then I haven’t broken up with anybody lately. And I’ve been married for a loooonnng time so I hadn’t been forced to think about it in that way. Interesting. 🙂

    Reply
  14. Fabulous – insightful and meaningful … and so was your description of Natalie!

    Reply
  15. EllieAnn

     /  March 9, 2012

    this is pretty darn great, August. It’s got me all ramped up for my next revision process! It sounds like you enjoy the revisions–that great smoothing out, the deepening and adding of layers–it IS a rather awesome thing to behold.

    Reply
  16. Like you, I have not experienced a break up for many, many years – but still remember what it was like. What a brilliant post and wonderful advice!

    Reply
  17. Wow, love and writing advice all in one go! How awesome are you August?!!!

    Break-ups can be a blessing because after each one you get a clearer picture of what you want(or don’t want!) in a partner. Although I do wonder how our parents(or the older generations) view break-ups. Many of them married their first sweethearts and are still together. Just one of my random thoughts…

    As for writing, I haven’t found a publisher or editor as yet but I’m just hoping that when that inevitable moment come, when I’m asked to change something major in my book, I don’t throw a massive hissy-fit… Lol. 😉

    Reply
  18. I like the idea of a break Up, not down. That really puts it into perpective. Usually a break up is what is best for us, that’s why we do it. I have seen so many people in my life, recently, go from a break up straight into another relationship just to be in one. It makes me think they aren’t getting the UP part.

    Reply
  19. Hello August!

    I have nominated you for the Beautiful Blog Award 🙂
    If accepted, follow this link for information:

    http://verticaltales.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/beautiful-blog-award/

    Cheers,
    George

    Reply
  20. Thank you so much for including me in this awesome post August!! And all the points you make are right on. Especially 4 and 5. You’ve given me a lot to think about now that I’m out in the dating world. Sure, I know we have to let go of what we “think” we want but what am I NOT willing to compromise on is what I have to figure out now. If that makes any sense. Thank you for this because I needed to hear it 😉

    Reply
  21. Well put together, August.

    Consider your motivation is one of the most important things to consider in relationships as well as many other life decisions. Is it selfish, for someone else’s approval, etc.?

    Good food-for-thought.

    Reply
  22. Great advice, August. The first item — listen to your gut — really resonates with me. It is sometimes one of the hardest things to do and yet, if we do follow our gut, the end result is usually the one that makes us happiest. 🙂

    Reply
  23. These are fabulous and a very clever comparisons. The breakups usually drill a hole (often more than one) in our very souls. Some of those holes stay there forever but some, fortunately, can close up with the passing of time, change of circumstances or a combination of both. Still, we are just human beings and so we always deal with the breakups: a relationship with a partner, a friend, a relative, or even a hobby that doesn’t suit us anymore or is too expensive to continue, or maybe we breakup a habit, an addiction, a belief…

    The key is to learn from those breakups and apply this knowledge into the future ones. I think with age and experience we start dealing with breakups in a less-destructive manner, maybe because we realize that life simply goes on, no matter what.

    Wonderful post, August. Absolutely wonderful.

    Reply
  24. BoJo Photo

     /  March 16, 2012

    I plan the theme of my paintings out from the get go actually writing a sentence or paragraph stipulating just what I want to accomplish as number two says.

    I love number three! Keep It Simple Smart! The most beautiful paintings have a simple rhythmic flow to them. I also base them on the armature of a rectangle which is mind blowing in its simple strength.

    Number four I totally relate to. My wild side says just do it but it gets me in trouble sometimes. I really try to use my planner but it is hard sometimes! Planning sometimes feels restrictive to me but it actually frees me once I start a well thought out project.

    I don’t like compromises myself. Hence my refusal to do commissioned paintings. I did one for a special client with a special need and I hated every minute of it struggling to finish.

    Reply
  25. Kourtney Heintz

     /  March 19, 2012

    Great points August! Trusting your instincts and cutting stuff are the hardest parts. But they lead to a much improved draft in my experience. 🙂

    Reply
  26. Wonderful advice, August. Just went through it in my manuscript as well – funny – I broke up with a peripheral storyline I wrote about one of my breakups – in a memoir about Breaking Up to find love 🙂 Geez … Ugh …
    Words to live by. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
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