When readers go to their favorite bookstore (or, you know, Amazon) and lose themselves in the quiet pleasure of choosing a book, they’re probably not thinking, “I want to find a book that doesn’t change me through reading it.” By and large, readers want to change through the process of reading. They want to see a part of the world they’ve never before visited, or gain a perspective that challenges their preconceived notions about the way we live. Booklovers read because they want to feel themselves transform through the journey of the story and come out the other end reinvigorated, passionate, and inspired.
And this is what all writers want to achieve in their books. When you sit down at your keyboard to create a story or send a message into the world, you’re seeking to create a something that will change people. But—shh—here’s a secret: If you want people to change through the process of reading your book, you must first change through the process of writing it.
Take a look at your work. Did you have a solid, well-developed idea in mind when you began writing? If so, how willing have you been to stray from it? Many writers think that ending with a different story than the one with which they began means they “got off track” or are undisciplined. That’s not true. Giving yourself room to breathe and play as you write is so important! The space between an original idea and the finished product is where the story comes alive, finds itself, fights for what it wants to say, and where you learn the most about yourself as the director of your work—most crucially—the why. Only through the dynamic process of creation (the tremors, the fever, the night sweats) can you break through and breathe the fresh air of discovery.
So if you’re a stickler for an outline (which is a great tool but not a be-all-end-all), beware: In not allowing the story to change, you’re not allowing yourself to change. Which means that the reader doesn’t even have the option.