From her frisky puppy-days to old-age, Becky was my loyal writing companion. Stretched out on the carpet near my desk, she kept an eye on me. When my writing was going well, she slept soundly. When I hit one of those annoying writing bumps, she inched closer to my legs. Mostly, Becky waited patiently for the sound of my computer shutting down. With her ears perked and chocolate eyes sparkling, I could easily read her thoughts.
“Thank goodness she’s finally done. Maybe we’ll go for a walk now or dig in the garden. Maybe she’ll prune the roses by the picket fence so we can visit with the neighbors. Oh, happy days.”
Even though Becky is gone now, her playful and loyal spirit remains behind. So I have decided that Becky should ask me all the questions that must have popped into her head while I was glued to my computer during those years of our companionship.
BECKY: This is so exciting. Can you see my tail wagging? Oops, I forgot. I don’t have a tail. I sure do have lots of questions though.
ME: Okay, Becky. What’s on your mind?
BECKY: Yep, paper. Over the years I’ve watched you go through stacks and stacks of it; a lot more than when I was a puppy.
ME: I hope you’re not worried about waste. I recycle everything I can, you know.
BECKY: I’m glad to hear that, but why do you use so much in the first place?
ME: Writers are always changing things. We hardly ever get it right the first time, the second time, or even the twentieth time. I make lots of changes.
BECKY: I’ll say. Sometimes the wastebasket gets so full I’m sure it will topple on top of me. I do hate change, you know. I am much happier when things stay the same. What kind of changes do you make?
ME: Big ones and little ones. A writer can’t be afraid of making changes.
BECKY: Big changes? I don’t like the sound of that.
ME: Here’s a good example of when I know it’s time for a big change—when a character starts making things tough for me.
BECKY: You mean when they do something wrong and you have to say “NO” in that bossy voice of yours?
ME: My bossy voice? Is that how I sound when I tell you to stop doing something naughty? Bossy?
ME: I thought I was using my be-a-good-dog-and-listen-to-me voice.
BECKY: Yeah, the bossy one.
ME: I am sorry, Becky. But as a writer, when one of my characters doesn’t do what I say, it’s important for me to figure out the problem. Why has my character become so difficult? Nothing I make him or her say sounds right anymore. Actually, I found out that the reason is pretty simple. It happens when I make a character do something silly when they are never usually silly and have no good reason to act that way. That means I’m in for trouble. I can’t seem to write anymore. It’s as if my character is saying to me, “I don’t want to do that. I just don’t feel right about it and you can’t make me.”
BECKY: I know how that feels.
ME: I’m going to ignore that, Miss Becky.
BECKY: Golly, I was just fooling with you. So tell me about those those little changes you talked about. Nothing as exciting as when I dig a new hole for a bone, I’ll bet.
ME: I wouldn’t be so sure. For me, those little changes are the most fun. Little changes mean looking at each word and there are a lot of words in my books.
BECKY: How many?
ME: Well, there could be 40,000 or more.
BECKY: How big is that?
ME: Just think of our entire house filled from top to bottom with doggie treats.
BECKY: Wow! That’s a lot of words. Are you saying that looking at each of your words is like sniffing thousands and thousands of doggie treats?
ME: I am, and sometimes a word gets sniffed, I mean looked at, many times. I ask myself over and over, “Is that the best word I can use?” “Have I used it too many times?” Questions like that.
BECKY: I guess making these changes takes forever.
ME: Sometimes it feels that way.
BECKY: Golly, I’d never have the patience to do that.
ME: You never were a patient puppy, but you were great when I asked you to sit and stay.
BECKY: Yeah, I was, wasn’t I? There’s something else that really puzzles me. Lots of times you wake me up from a perfectly good nap by reading your story out loud. I thought reading aloud was for young puppies.
ME: It’s true that new readers learn better when they read aloud, but so do some writers—especially me! Reading aloud is a terrific way to get a different feel for the words I picked. The last thing I do before taking a new chapter to my writing group is to read it aloud in my studio and then fix it up one last time.
BECKY: More changes?
ME: But that’s not the weirdest part. When I read this just-revised chapter aloud to my writing group, I hear it differently yet again! Almost every time I come back to my studio to make more changes.
BECKY: Don’t you get tired of going over and over your work? Jeepers, just thinking about it makes me sleepy.
ME: It does take patience. I have to be very determined. One thing keeps me going though.
BECKY: That you’ll get a treat when you’re done?
ME: Sort of. When I’m finally finished, I know that I have created a story that boys and girls will love and hopefully remember for a long, long time. What better treat could there be?
BECKY: Oh, I can think of one. Can we go for a walk now?
Susan Austin, Author and Educator