A Writer Can Change Her Mind, Can't She?

A Writer Can Change Her Mind, Can't She?, Guest post by Caroline Taylor

A Writer Can Change Her Mind, Can't She?

Of course, she can. Especially if she’s not getting any traction with the novel she’s been trying to sell. After several years and rejections too numerous to count, plus a tour through an expensive book doctor, who thought the story was a good one, it occurred to me that my novel about a typist in a small town in the Midwest who is jealous of the newcomer, a more cosmopolitan young woman whom she feels duty-bound to welcome, was, to put it mildly, boring.

A Writer Can Change Her Mind, Can't She?, Guest post by Caroline Taylor
I liked it; the book doctor liked it. But the people who count—agents and publishers—didn’t seem to find it interesting enough to bother with. I could keep trying—I am a firm believer in persistence—but there came a point when it was obvious I was beating my head against the wall. I had two choices: Give up, or try something different. By then, I had invested so much time and effort in crafting the novel, I was loath to abandon it. I liked the characters too much to let them go. I liked the basic concept—that people are a product of their upbringing and often have to change if they are to grow. I wanted to describe what it was like to sit at a manual typewriter all day long, typing deadly insurance policy forms that were so expensive, no erasures were permitted. But I knew the story needed a healthy dose of action, suspense, whatever. So I changed it.

Throwing out the boring stuff and keeping the interesting stuff wasn’t easy. It boiled down to asking myself the same question about each element of the story: keep or change?

Get me Rewrite!

Plot: In the original story, the two women become good friends, although the main character, Judah, suffers when her old high school flame returns to town and immediately hooks up with the young woman, Nancy. Then valuable things start to disappear, and the people in the office accuse the stranger in their midst. Judah doesn’t want to believe this until she discovers all the stolen items hidden beneath Nancy’s bed. Yawning yet? Apparently the agents and publishers were. So the revised version became a story about a naïve young Midwesterner who gets blackmailed into spying on her boss.

Setting: There is a Cold War element here that simply wouldn’t be credible in a small Illinois town, and that’s why I moved the setting to Washington, D.C.

Characters: Having invested a great deal of effort developing my characters and their personalities, I kept them all, including their names and their relationships (more or less), but I changed their roles to match the new story. Judah still has an overly strict religious upbringing that makes her never question strange happenings in the office. But now she also has a secret past as a child thief. Nancy remains the world traveler with a back story pretty much the same as in the original novel and an affection for Jack, whom Judah had dated only a couple of times. Ralph, the shoe salesman who lives across from Judah, remains the same, except that I kill him off midway through the rewritten novel. Tom Lawrence, the boss, also remains the same love interest, although in the rewritten version, Judah is forced to betray him. Jack, who was the real thief in the original plot now is the real villain in the new version.

Time: Both the old and new versions occur in 1966, at a time of transition from the old manual typewriters to electric and then correcting electric typewriters. Both versions also occur in April, although the rewritten story takes readers up to Christmas of 1966 when Judah winds up killing the man running the spy operation.

It took several months, possibly more than a year, to blend the old and new versions of The Typist into a story that caught a publisher’s interest. It’s not so much that a writer can change her mind; it’s that sometimes she should change it.

A Writer Can Change Her Mind, Can't She?, Guest post by Caroline Taylor
Caroline Taylor is the author of three mysteries, “What Are Friends For,” “Jewelry from a Grave” and “Loose Ends”; the award-winning nonfiction book, “Publishing the Nonprofit Annual Report: Tips, Traps, and Tricks of the Trade.” She is releasing a thriller, “The Typist,” in June 2018. A lifelong writer and editor, Caroline has received numerous awards for editorial and design excellence for publications she produced for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the NIH Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, BoardSource, and the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation. She is a member of the North Carolina Writers' Network, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America.


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