It's alive


At some point you’ll find that your book has a life of its own. It will actually have this life for a while before you make this discovery.

You hear fiction writers talk about this a lot. Their characters decide to do things that the author never planned. This may strike you as strange — isn’t the writer creating the work? This isn’t a scene from "The Purple Rose of Cairo". Characters must stay in their world — the world that you the author creates.

But they don’t. Even in non-fiction.

There are always parts of my books that are fighting me. They don’t want to be where they are. They want to come earlier or later. I struggle to make the examples work right. I agonize over the flow. And then at some point I listen to my characters and I break up one pairing and create another.

In my Cocoa book I had a nice chapter on Categories and Protocols. They seemed to work well together in the original version. And then I went back to update the book for Snow Leopard. Protocols kept asking me to come earlier. I insisted it stay where it was. I lost weeks over this struggle and finally gave up.

"OK," I said, "you can move earlier but there’s no way I’m moving Categories that early in the book. Categories sulked. I ignored it even more. I put it off way beyond where it was in the first edition. Categories pitched a real attitude. It threatened to walk from the book entirely—and I almost let it. And then a slot opened up and it fit perfectly. It became its own chapter. Because it had waited so long, it suggested other examples that I could and should use to explain it.

These specifics may not mean much to you, but there are elements of your book that are talking to you. Of course it’s really you that is talking to you. Listen. You might be right.

This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.