A path lit by words

Creative disruption

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Last week I blogged for Steelbridge Solutions, a consulting firm that works in Human Resources technology, helping companies replace legacy systems with Software as a Service (SaaS). SaaS solutions are sworn to improve efficiency and functionality at a lower operating cost, in part, by reducing the number of employees required to manage them. All good, right? Maybe, maybe not— because providers leave the bad news out of their sales pitch: new technology disrupts an organization.

For my purposes here, the causes of disruption aren’t important. The point is that, usually, disruption is thought of as negative. Consider its definitions: to break apart or rupture; to throw into disorder; to interrupt an event, activity, or process; to destroy, usually temporarily, the normal continuance or unity of a process or thing. No wonder most human beings hate disruption. It’s difficult and painful. It takes us out of our comfort zone. We resist, making it harder on ourselves, and even as we adjust, we mourn the old order, convinced that the new solution will never really work.

But Professor Clayton M. Christensen of the Harvard Business School has developed  a concept called disruptive innovation that has a positive spin. When applied to technology, it means “any technology that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry, or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.” Think email and “snail” mail, PCs and typewriters, or, more recently, the new Apple Watch and traditional luxury timepieces. In fact, Apple’s design head, Sir Jonathan Ive, has claimed that the iWatch will “disrupt the Swiss watch industry.

All of this made me wonder about applying disruption to writing, and then, what to call it. When I typed creative disruption into my search engine,  I found it already in use, all over the Web, by business, government, and social organizations. In every case, it means seeking disruption because it forces individuals and companies to adapt, learn, and improve.

We authors can be protective. Certain parts of our stories and novels fall just short (and sometimes not so short) of sacred. It could be a character we adore, a scene that sings, the paragraph that has opened all seventeen drafts of a manuscript, or the themes we can’t let go of, even when our books have taken a different direction than we expected.

Especially if a manuscript has languished in Query Land, it’s time to seek disruption. Blow your baby up, break it apart, and put it back together in a brand new way. At different times, I have nuked my first chapter, wiped out favorite scenes, and killed off my hero’s love interest. Once, I transgendered my hero because an agent said that to appeal to women, my book had to have a heroine. (I’m pleased to report that the surgery was reversible.)

Making changes like these is hard, and it hurts, like a bizarre form of grief with no truly dead bodies, but one day you’ll discover the startling truth: your hero’s kid brother was a pain in the neck, that clever subplot was a risky distraction, and your opening pages, once thick with back-story, are so crisp and compelling that agents can’t resist asking for a full.

Seek disruption. Start small if you have to, but challenge yourself to take manageable risks. Future readers will thank you for it.

Author: Jean Bardo

I'm a freelance Human Resources consultant and blogger, a published short story writer, and an aspiring author of fiction I call "literary mysteries."

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