Writing Reaping the Benefits started as exploring an interesting idea and turned into a lesson about breaking out of my comfort zone.
Now, before I get into how I broke out of my comfort zone and the results of that decision, I have a confession. I can say honestly and with no shame that the moment I was done with Reaping the Benefits, I jumped right back into my comfort zone, rolled myself in a proverbial blanket, and hunkered down in the soft warmth of my favorite point of view. If you’re reading this and are familiar with my previous work, then you know that all of my books have one thing in common aside from the whole WLW theme: They’re written in first person point of view. Sweet, sweet first person.
I’ve spoken about my love of first person before so I won’t bore you with another essay about how great it is. But I will bore you with a micro essay about why I decided to go against my natural grain and write Reaping the Benefits in third person PoV.
Friends, the book wasn’t always in third person. It started the way all my novels do: with a random idea (in this case – one of Death’s Minions handing her personal assistant an afterlife contract then being all, “So you’re going to die soon, terribly sorry, would you mind making me a cup of tea, okay thanks, bye.”) and a thought of Hey wouldn’t it be funny if… until I eventually started writing it. In first person point of view. But then I didn’t know if the narrator I’d chosen was the right one, because in this case both main characters’ opinions and viewpoints seemed important and provided equal opportunity for giggles—always a motivating factor for me as an author. So I switched to first person point of view with the other character. Then switched again. Then decided, eff it, I’ll just write both. And somewhere in all that early fiddling I had the WORST thing happen.
I began to doubt myself.
And not the usual writer’s doubt, but a full-on Acme wrecking ball of doubt dropped onto my head. Little Self-Doubter E. J. started whispering in my ear, “Everyone hates first person, you should stop writing it from now on and forever more, third person is where it’s at. Do iiiitttt!” I mean, of course, nobody actually ever expressed those sentiments or anything like them to me but for some reason that annoying thought stuck in my head—thanks, Brain. So I changed it all over to third person point of view.
And I did not enjoy it.
It became something of a stubborn self-challenge that I finish this book in third person.
But, perseverance and all that. It became something of a stubborn self-challenge that I finish this book in third person. Imaging hiking 10,000 kilometres (6,213.712 miles – you’re welcome) in deep snow. Uphill the whole way. That’s kind of what it felt like.
I questioned every step, every word, every story choice in a way I have never done before. Was I struggling so much because of third person, or was it just not a good story and ohmygoodness what if it just sucked? What if I just sucked?
I spent 80% of the time I should have been writing complaining on Twitter about writing third person until finally some lovely knowledgeable people stepped in, probably because they were sick of me whining, offered to take a look at my unfinished pile of words and very tactfully and concisely pointed out what they thought needed to change. The intervention turned out to be exactly the right kind of kick in the butt I needed to charge through and git it done. So I did. Friends, I wrote a whole book in third person. Medal, please.
Struggle is a very uncomfortable place when you’re trying to be creative.
I suppose all of this could make it sound like I don’t like this book which is not at all true. I love the finished product, and I think readers will enjoy it too. But I have to say it was probably the first book I’ve written where I struggled to make the words happen. And struggle is a very uncomfortable place when you’re trying to be creative. Everything felt wrong, and I warped myself into thinking things weren’t as they actually were. (Here’s where I say a thank you to my friends and wife for pointing out all the things that contradicted my thoughts, that when pointed out were obviously not as I was seeing them…)
Most importantly, I learned some things about myself during the whole third person struggle process—aside from the fact I’m the president of the First Person Point of View Fan Club—which I suppose made Le Struggle worthwhile.
Firstly, I can’t be trusted. Not only around chips, but to be objective about my work, especially when I’m feeling uncomfortable.
And, secondly, the most important thing I discovered is that when I can’t trust myself, I also need to trust myself—I know, I know – contradiction much—enough to push through a rough writing patch. But here’s why: because while creative discomfort feels awful, it won’t kill me. And there’s no shame, once I’ve done the scary thing, in going back to my comfort zone to regroup and regain my strength for the next attack on third person.
And that next attack on third person will be at least ten years away.