GUEST POST: NOT EVERY WORD IS PRECIOUS

I’d like to thank Teena Raffa-Mulligan for this guest post about writing. Teena is a reader, writer and daydream believer. She writes across genres and her publications include picture books, chapter books, a novel, short stories and poems. Her writing life has also included a long career as a journalist and editor. Her latest book is True Blue Amigos (illustrated by Barrie Smith), a colourful picture book about Blue, the bouncing red kangaroo and her little friend Pedro. You can find out more about Teena here, check out her interviews with writers here, and there’s even a special author site for kids here. You can also follow Teena on FaceBook and Twitter.

In my early days as a writer I treated every word of what I wrote as something precious. These were my stories, my poems. No one should alter them to suit their ideas of how they should be written. I was devastated when one of my first acceptances went to print in a magazine, drastically slashed to remove – as I saw it – every shred of my personality and voice. Anyone could have written it. I consoled myself with the thought I’d used a pen name.

Years in journalism gave me a different perspective and during my time in the editor’s chair I was the person making the changes, cutting and modifying the writing of others to suit style and fit available space. As my publication list of stories, poems and children’s books grew, I also gained a greater insight into writing to suit a market. I learnt not to be so precious about my creative output. I came to value feedback from publishers and editors, recognising writing more as a process and their input as a way to develop and improve my craft.

Joining a critique group took my ability to let go and relinquish total control to another level. Nothing I wrote was set. It was all a work in progress, with the potential to take directions I hadn’t initially considered. For example, take my new picture book, True Blue Amigos, released this month by Wild Eyed Press. The original story was about a kangaroo and a Mexican mouse who travel around Australia looking for a place to call home.

“How do you feel about changing the mouse to a Chihuahua?” asked my publisher early in the publication process.

“Great idea!” I responded, and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself. I could see instantly how well it would work. After all, Chihuahuas are Mexican. They’re small. And there are already so many picture books about mice.

Softcover Books - True Blue Amigos

It meant a bit of rewriting because my story was in rhyme and the words ‘mouse’ and ‘Chihuahua’ sound totally different. No drama, though. A few quick changes to the text and I went on with another writing project while the publisher moved on to finding an illustrator.

Then came a phone call. “I’m wondering about Manuel’s name,” she said. “People might not know how to pronounce it.”

Hmm. Point taken. I did a Google search, played around with a few alternatives and we settled on Pedro. A few more line changes were made and I stepped back from the publication process and waited excitedly to see how the illustrator would interpret my story.

There’d been talk of including a map so kids could follow the two amigos’ travels around Australia. That’s when the impractical route I’d taken them on in my original story came to light.

“We’ve rearranged your verses so their journey makes more sense,” said Leanne. “You might come up with a better route. Let me know what you think.”

One look at the map confirmed that it was the right way to go. But rearranging some of the verses changed the rhyming pattern of my story. It was back to the text to come up with alternatives for the lines that no longer rhymed.

So the final version of my story has evolved through the creative input of others aside from me. There’s a new lead character and while the two mates still travel to the same places around the country, their itinerary is different. But True Blue Amigos still tells the same story of friendship, and home being the place of the heart. It is no less my story than it was when I first came up with the idea. As an author I’ve learnt I don’t have to hold rigidly to my words. Letting some of them go some of the time doesn’t subtract anything from the creativity equation. It adds to it.

More about True Blue Amigos:

Join Blue, the bouncing red kangaroo and her little friend Pedro as they travel the states of Australia looking for a place to call home. Their Aussie adventure sees them snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, sing at the Sydney Opera House, camp at Uluru, dance a crocodile rock, trek Tasmania, surf in Perth and much more. This colourful picture book is available from Wild Eyed Press and selected retail outlets around Australia.