ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 25, 2011 - 2:01pm

I have a novel that I have taken on and off the back burner for more years than I would like to admit. I've finished plenty of first drafts in the meantime, gotten an essay published in a book, and spent some time as a professional blogger--but earlier this year I decided that I really needed to piss or get off the pot with this one. I set a goal of November 1st, the idea being I could finish the draft, take a month long break to do NaNo and then come back to it clear headed.

Well, I fucking blew it. I have been very busy with personal stuff and life and all of the other excuses, and have just neglected to make time for it during October. There is no humanly possible way to reach my goal. I have made the decision to back out of NaNo, which is a small relief, but now, every time I sit down to work I just feel burnt the fuck out. I think I need a break.

I want to make the break productive, and work on honing my skills and feeding my creativity in the meantime, so I have decided to work on essays and short fiction to be submitted, and spend time on the novel when I feel like I can look at it with love again, and not a bag on my hip.

Give it to me straight---is this logical? A good plan? Or does it sound like I am making more excuses? 

Nighty Nite's picture
Nighty Nite from NJ is reading Grimscribe: His Lives and Works October 25, 2011 - 2:08pm

Sounds reasonable to me, but that's probably because I'm in the same boat.

I started my novel late last year, stopped for a few months, tried to go back, then stopped again. Everytime I look at the part I left off at, thinking and hoping I can keep going, I hit a mental roadblock. In the mean time I've just been writing short stories until something sticks.

The dance of the unfinished novel is a long and trying one, I wish you the best of luck. 

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 25, 2011 - 2:10pm

Yeah, biggest regret is burning bridges with the blogging gig, as I was making connections and getting paid with it. I did recently get a "you wanna come back?" email, so maybe I need to swallow the pride and take her up on it.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 25, 2011 - 2:20pm

Anytime I set a deadline for myself I immediately get barraged with obstacles I cannot back out of, and stress out about meeting this deadline, and am frazzled during the time I put in, and all the writing comes out rushed or just bad. I'm thinking of avoiding deadlines altogether other than a vague 'finish this in the spring' sort of plan.

I have a couple false starts to novel first drafts over the years that when I come back to, I still like the ideas and the writing, but then feel my writing is so much better now (not necessarily true.) I feel if I were to try these old stories again, I would have to tackle them in one long binge, no matter how rushed and abridged that draft would be and then just expand it upon later drafts.

But that's all a tangent, to answer your question, I think you'd probably be spending your time well.

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 25, 2011 - 2:29pm

Renfield---I'm actually thinking the same thing with this, rather than setting a hard date, saying "early next year" because then there isn't anything looming over me. I think a big part of why I went through the whole avoidance thing this month is because I was afraid I wouldn't hit my goal, and SURPRISE! Self fulfilling prophecy.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 25, 2011 - 2:36pm

Yep. Also I tend to notice focusing on finishing something kills a lot of the fundamentals of storytelling and is all about plot and wordcount versus theme, characterization, actual good prose.

MattF's picture
MattF from Tokyo is reading Borges' Collected Fictions October 25, 2011 - 6:21pm

It's important to understand that a goal is not a plan.  If a lifter plans to pull 500 lbs by the end of the year and only wakes up once a week thinking: "I have to pull 500 lbs by the end of the year," he won't move a single pound towards it (and will actually miss the goal months ahead of time).  It requires an extremely specific set of calculations and progressions and can only be accomplished moment by moment over the course of the year.  Writing isn't lifting, but it ain't all that different.

Instead of: "I'm going to finish my novel by Nov. 1st", think "I'll reread what I've got on Sunday."  On your next day off take notes on what you liked and didn't like, then outline the weakest points, rewrite the first page, whatever your way of working is...

If you stall out there are a dozen things to analyze.  In lifting it could be diet or recovery or just tweaking the plan a bit.  In writing it could be a bit scarier: the idea's not good enough; it's not written well enough; I'm not good enough to pull it off... which is all the more reason to avoid it.  But you won't know till you get in there.

Which is my long-winded way of saying I've been there too and finally realized that my miraculous parade of missed and forlorn goals wasn't about setting the wrong goals, but failing to create any realistic system to accomplish them--and quite possibly from fear that I couldn't.  We romantacize the hell out of dreams, but a dream can be a damned heavy thing.  

Wish you the best...


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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 25, 2011 - 6:39pm

Thanks, I appreciate the input. I think my issue was that at the time I set the goal, I was in a place where it was achievable, and neglected to account for "life". When I had to tale unplanned breaks, instead of doubling my efforts, I extended the breaks. I did really well for a few months, then just started burning out. Part of this was having knot life changes and part of it was avoidance, I am a dyed in the wool procrastinator.

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aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. October 25, 2011 - 9:19pm

I had a novel I really was into and liked but then I sort of fell into a lull then I started sharing it with people and then their opinions kind of overwhelmed my need to write it.  Sometimes I wish I never shared it with these people because now I feel like I have too much input in all different directions.

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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 25, 2011 - 11:30pm

One thIng I really took away from King's "On Writing" was the "writing with the door closed". I was a compulsive "sharer" for a long time and definitely had issues with my stories getting muddled with other people's input. I've taken that idea of writing the first (and sometimes even the second) draft without sharing, and not putting it out there to friends and family until I am satisfied with where it's gone. In some ways it is harder, you don't get the encouragement from people as easily of they can't see what you're doing, and it's harder to bounce ideas off of someone when you're stuck--but it's kept my writing cleaner and more honest.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 26, 2011 - 12:15am

you have to have the deadline. but you have to be ready when the deadline is set for issues to come straight out of the floorboards at you. long lost relations will want to get to know you, former sexual partners will suddenly call you for the first time in eight years, and want to have sex with you again before they get married (this actually happened to me a few years ago), people will die, your car will break down, and your cat will get run over (but not killed) by one of your neighbors.

im with you on the sharing thing. now i dont even discuss ideas with my compatriots. this move has damaged some of my writing relationships, but i feel there is more integrity for everyone i remain involved with, and myself.

what i would do, deadline wise is a certain goal per month. like, as a short story writer i have every intention of working on a story a week system. this may or may not include editing, but over the course of a year, even if i drop one story a month due to distraction, thats still almost four dozen. as a novelist, i would suggest a similar system without editing, since you would do that as a blanket process at the end, except with chapters as needed until the story is told to your liking.

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. October 26, 2011 - 12:27am

I think the worst thing someone ever told me when they read my book was, "It's like a list of bad things happening to people."  I was like, WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN?  It made me hate my whole book and doubt it.  Then I thought:  Isn't most transgressive fiction like that?  I mean, things get worse and worse and stranger until you have a surreal and almost enigmatic ending.  It's better than the traditional story structure.  I mean the good guy can win sometimes but he at least has to be missing a limb by the end or he will have learned nothing.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 26, 2011 - 12:38am

that last sentence is fucking awesome. everyone should write this way. it takes tom spanbauer's wounded narrator to its logical evolution. in his books, the narrator is wounded in the beginning to make him relatable, pitiable, or somehow unique to his universe. i submit to you the wounded narrator should be wounded by his story, and not for it.

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simon morris from Originally, Philadelphia, PA; presently Miami Beach, FL is reading This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George October 26, 2011 - 12:53am

The only time I have set a deadline is when someone is paying for it. When you have a signed contract and the editor wants the revisions Friday, you make sure she has them by Thursday. Initial writing is different. If my muse isn't engaged, what will come out is dreck if I write to a schedule. That is just me so I don't draw conclusions for anyone else.

I found that when I had an idea, I didn't have to set deadlines, I wrote my first book-length ms--first rough draft--in six weeks while working 80 hour weeks. I believed I was on to something so I spent the next six months polishing it. This was not fiction but it was still a 100,000 word explosion that was not planned anywhere near to what emerged. The hard part was pruning it down. That took discipline and I had to force myself to the keyboard every day. It felt like I was carving up my first born. Prior to writing my first published book, my only experience with writing had been writing a weekly column in a local newspaper.

When you know that you have a full idea inside, you do not have to motivate yourself. The writing happens and most of the time, you have to read it to know what you said.

I do not have that happening with fiction. It is still an effort as I learn to master the elements that I can see in others work but do not yet see in my own.

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break October 26, 2011 - 6:59am

I obligate myself to 250 words a day.  This doesn't seem like very much, but it's manageable and it puts me on pace to finish a project in about a year.  The quality is usually better too.

I'd rather have 250 words that I feel are publishable than 5,000 sloppy ones.

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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 26, 2011 - 10:40am

250 words would be a breeze if I could get past this feeling of just not caring. I am in the end stages of this draft, where I have  a beginning, middle and end, but need to fill in holes and write out bits that I just roughly outlined in fits of blasting through to the next spurt of inspiration. I think that's why I really need the break. Most of the "write for this long" or "write this much" advice is GREAT for first drafts, or for getting words on paper, but it's shit for connecting the dots. I ended up in this situation through a comedy of errors that had me re-writing a first draft I had lost, so I wrote it more like pieces in a puzzle than a straight narrative. Then, of course, I found the original first draft tucked away with my husband's work texts, so I had two drafts, no ending, and a LOT of holes. It's very close, very, very close, but right now I just don't feel in love with it like I did last month. Right now it's a bag on my hip, and it's a looming deadline. I feel like if I can let go of the deadline, and hone my skills a little with essays and shorts, and maybe do some of the "homework" in the Chuck P. essays, I'll feel better about writing in general, and I can go back to this project and find the joy in it again. It's by far my favorite piece I have written, I don't want to hate it by the time it's through.

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind October 26, 2011 - 2:46pm

Addressing the crushing sense of exhaustion one can have with a WIP they can't seem to finish:

There are a number of reasons I'm participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and that's one of them. I've been working on my WIP for a little over two years now. I have a problem with self-editing and rewriting, partially because I don't outline until I've written out a chunk of a draft and partially because I do a lot of second guessing thanks to Steven Moffat and his horrible reign on Doctor Who. (But that's enough trouble for it's own thread!)  Especially because of the latter, I find myself so frustrated about the progress of my work that I sometimes don't want to bother with it at all. I feel burned out, and I'm not even half way through this draft. I'd dump it, but I love the story too much and the characters wouldn't work in anything else. But I don't want "set it aside" and work on another novel--I won't ever get back to it!

But that's where NaNoWriMo comes into play. I'm not doing an official NaNoventure--I'll be splitting it into two or three short stories for the month and I'll hope I get to 50K words by the end of it. Some of the stories will be related to my current project so I can build the universe a bit, but at least one of them has absolutely nothing to do with traveling through time, space, or parallel worlds. That's the first one I'll be working on. 

It's great because it gives me a month away from my WIP, but at the end of that month, I have to get back to it. Then if ever the urge to edit strikes me, I can pull up one of the shorts I wrote during November and spend that energy there instead of butchering my novel.

So, no. It doesn't sound like an excuse! It sounds like you and Mr. Manuscript need a break, that's all. See some other projects for a month. Find out what you're looking for, what Mr. Manuscript isn't offering you. Make a goal to sit down with it at the end of the month. Have a serious talk with it. Figure out if you're still right for each other. You know, that sort of thing!