Friday, August 4, 2017

Breaking up is hard to do

There's something to be said for discipline, for pushing through on writing projects even though they're hard, and even though they're's so not fun anymore. You know...when the going gets tough, and all that. 
Okay, there's a lot to be said for that approach. That approach gets things done. That approach finishes things, and finishing, as we know, is a pretty critical part of any writing project. But there's also something to be said for quitting.

Yeah...I should probably explain. 

I recently trunked a manuscript after months of working on it. Usually if I'm fighting with a project, it means I'm coming at it from the wrong direction. I need to find a new way in, a fresh approach to the story. Other times, it's not that my approach needs reconfiguring; it's that I need a good kick in the pants, preferably of the metaphorical kind. 

But sometimes after I've tried all my just-do-it tricks and my new-approach tricks, I find I'm still fighting with a project. This usually means it's time to let it go, to "break up" with the project for one of a few reasons:
  1. It's not you, it's me. It's a good project, but for whatever reason, it's not the project for me. 
  2. I'm just not ready for a relationship. It's a good project, but it needs more time percolating before I pull it out and give it another go. 
  3. Yeah, it's actually you. It's actually kind of a stupid project, lol. What was I thinking? 
At this point, I think my trunked project falls into category two. Time will tell. If it keeps pulling me back, I'll definitely re-visit it. 

Deciding to set that project aside was a tough thing to do. I wanted to love it, and I'd worked hard on it. But here's the thing: once the decision was made, it was like opening the windows on my creative spirit and letting a cool breeze rush in. So refreshing! So light! So...hopeful. It was only two or three days later that a Shiny New Idea took hold, half a notebook was filled with excited scribbling, and my new project took root. 

When you're fighting with a writing project, here are a few options to consider...

  • New Approach: Maybe you're coming at the project from the wrong direction -- starting in the wrong place, using the wrong POV, missing the mark voice-wise (or, as has happened to me, the character isn't YA-age as you'd first thought, but rather MG!). Try talking it out with critique partners, or brainstorming possibilities, or free-writing about the story. Try writing non-linearly (if you're excited about the ending, or the fight scene, or whatever, write that scene). Try different points of view (whose story is it, anyway? and would it work better in third-person? etc). Try putting the project away for a month, and then taking a fresh look at it. Usually some combination of these things will ensure I find my way into a story.
  • Just Do It: Sometimes, procrastination wins. Sometimes laziness does. At that point, we have to do whatever it takes to get words on the page. A self-imposed deadline, if a "real" deadline doesn't exist; bribery or rewards; accountability (tell your critique partner or your entire social media audience that you're going to do it by X date). If it's distraction that's keeping you from finishing a project (squirrel!), even distraction by way of brilliant new story ideas, try lists -- jot things down to free your mind of them. I have an idea notebook for great ideas with poor timing, lol; they get duly noted before being ushered out the door to wait their turn. Do whatever it takes to just do it.
  • Move On: Unless you're contractually obligated to finish a project, don't be afraid to set it aside if it's not coming together. You may find your creativity flourishes when freed from "ought to" projects. Explore something new. Re-fill the creative well. Take joy in playing with words, ideas, stories. No, you shouldn't make a habit of giving up when things aren't going well -- we learn so much by pushing through and finishing a project! But if you step back and objectively see that it's time to move on from something that isn't working, it's okay. Be kind to yourself. But hey, finish the next thing, okay? ;-) 

Happy writing. :) #thisdaywewrite


Tom Mulroy said...

Been there, just about a year ago. I spent months planning everything to the last detail, then found myself boxed in and couldn't move forward. Very frustrating. I had to put it aside and move on to other things. I still love the idea, and I'll probably get back to it another day, but I'll have to approach it differently when I do.

Unknown said...

Time away from a project definitely helps us gain perspective. Thanks for this post! :)

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

I resemble this post! Great advice!

Rachel Alison said...

Loved this post - very helpful!

Mirka Breen said...

More <3 for this post. I'm just at that point...