Another difficult post, and this time…it’s personal.
I’ve had a lot of false starts on my writing. Like many, it’s something I’ve been passionate about for a very long time, but I never really knew how to turn it into something outside more than just a hobby. I’d try for a few months, get frustrated, and then give up. Rinse and repeat. At the beginning of 2017 I reached a point in my life where decided I had enough. No more wasting my time or waiting around for that bolt of lightning to strike. I had dreams, and it was MY responsibility to make them happen.
Thus from the depths of my soul, the series known as The Pixie Chronicles came to be. It was magical and life-changing and mostly a lot of me staring at the screen and screaming while my brain was inundated with ideas far too great for my mortal brain to bear. Trust me, it was all pretty fantastic. And from then on I swore to protect all of my creations with the rabidness and ferocity of a wild mother cougar. Or badger. Whichever is wilder and scarier.
The only problem is, my love made me blind. I mean sure, we all have that one novel with a face only a mother could love, right? But I think I’m getting a little too deep into the parent/child analogy, so I’m going to step away from that before I dig myself a little too deep and I start wondering what the heck I’ve been doing with my life while 17-year olds are winning gold medals.
I reached a point where I started pushing my novels too far. I was so enamored with their concepts I ignored the fact that same of story-lines and characters just simply weren’t working. I thought if I just kept working at them, revising and editing and starting over, it would fix everything, despite the fact that everything was pointing to the contrary. My novel, Ocean’s Daughter, has sadly met such a fate.
Ocean’s Daughter was meant to be my retelling of The Little Mermaid. I should have known things would end badly when I jumped into writing it with only about 70% of it outlined. NEVER START WRITING WITHOUT AN OUTLINE!!!1! Well, if you’re me anyway.
I hit about 20k words and completely stalled out. A few months later, after too many nights of sobbing dramatically on my bed because it wasn’t working, I decided to completely scrap it and start over. Wouldn’t you know it, I hit almost exactly another 20k and completely screeched to a halt. Hook. Line. Sinker. (is that the right catch-phrase? Basically…it sank.) I wanted so badly for it to work, I was completely pushing away all of the signs screaming in my face that it wasn’t. After all, I’d given up on my goals and dreams so many times already, who wasn’t to say this wasn’t just me trying to run away from it all again?
But I’m starting to realize it’s not just about pushing through, no matter the costs. That’s how people rip tendons and wind up dehydrated. That’s also how crappy books get published. And I refuse to publish a crappy book.
I’ve written a lot over the years. Short stories. Half finished novels. Fully finished novels. WAY too much fanfiction (one story which was so popular a reader even asked if she could translate it into another language…not that I’m bragging or anything…mwuahahaha…), but that doesn’t matter. It’s not as though you reach a set amount of words and suddenly you’re done practicing and everything you write from then on out is going to be gold. I wish. Sadly, as much as I keep trying to prove otherwise, life doesn’t work that way.
So what are you supposed to do? Give up on writing forever?
NO SILLY BUNNY!!
Please. Of all things, do NOT take away that message from this. That’s not what this is about. What it IS about, however, is knowing when to move on from a project. It can be even more difficult than simply pressing on, but sometimes, for the sake of our writing, it’s the best option. Ultimately, I boil that decision down to 3 major things.
When to STOP Writing
1. Gut feeling
And I don’t just mean because you’re bored with it. Look, writing is hard work. There are going to be parts in the writing process that are tricky, dull or just plain frustrating. That’s the nature of the beast (the beast being your novel, not the work), and it’s something, as writers, we learn to overcome.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Instead, what I mean is something more instinctual, perhaps something that can’t be really put into words. It’s this unexplainable, deep-rooted sense that something is fundamentally flawed. Perhaps the characters, the plot, the world…it doesn’t matter. And you might not even be able to pinpoint it exactly, but every time you sit to write there is a knee-jerk reaction that something is WRONG.
If you’re lucky, you’ve already built up the skill to pull this feeling apart, to dig deep and pinpoint what isn’t working. But if you don’t have that skill yet that’s okay. We’re not all superhuman genies.
2. You got what you needed out of it
Not every story or novel serves the same purpose. It’s why there’s so many ways to write…how many forms of poetry can you think of? We have the novel, the novella, the short story. We have scripts. Diary entries. Journaling. They’re all different and they all serve different functions.
I’m a big believer in playing with writing. Just…having fun! Experiment. Explore. TRY NEW THINGS. But sometimes those experiences force themselves on us, and we don’t really realize until we’re halfway through and we think, ‘Hey, I didn’t know that about myself or my writing before.’ That’s not always a cue to stop either, don’t get me wrong. You may have just discovered you love writing in first person or you adore haikus, so keep going! But maybe instead you learned you abhor writing song lyrics and you’re trying to create a musical. That’s where we take a step back and have to analyze. Why were we so excited about this project in the first place? The characters? The plot? Just the general idea of it? Can it be interpreted in some other format? Can it be tweaked to suit you better? Or did you just think you thought it would be fun to write a bunch of songs and turns out…it isn’t. There’s NO shame in that. You just have to decide what aspect of the project is important to you, if it’s worth it to forge on ahead, or if you’ve gotten what you needed out of the project and it’s time to let it go.
3. You have other projects you’re passionate about
Somewhat tied into my first point, and again, I’m not asking you to give into Shiny-Object-Syndrome, because a new idea is ALWAYS going to sound better. Instead, the key word we’re looking at here is passion. Let’s say it again because it’s so beautiful.
That’s right. I’m a BIG believer in work reflects attitude. Basically being that, if you’re not, on some level, excited to work on your writing, it WILL show through. Don’t be fooled. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be super-happy-skippidy-joy-joy all the time. Yeah right. Put down the fruit loops. You’re still going to get those difficult those scenes, those long, boring, muddy scenes. Those scenes that make you wonder about your entire life’s existence. Don’t worry, that’s normal. But through all that awfulness, there should still be that glimmer of passion burning deep (sometimes way deep) inside you that’s pushing you to keep going. That reminder that it will get better and yes, you do LOVE THIS STORY.
But sometimes that passion simply burns out. Then what? Can you rekindle it? Try! Maybe you can breathe new life into it! But sometimes…sometimes you can’t. And in my experience, if I’m working on something I don’t give two wits about, the reader notices. And that’s no fun for anybody.
Now, despite what this post may imply, this doesn’t mean I’ve completely given up on writing a Little Mermaid retelling. It just means I’ve given up on writing THIS Little Mermaid story. Because you know how the saying goes, ‘Fool me once, shame on my book; Fool me twenty-three times…’ Or something like that. Pretend I’m poignant and wise.
But I’m not going to rush back under the sea (under the sea!) just yet, because I think that’s what got me into this whole mess in the first place. I was constantly trying to force something that didn’t feel natural, and pushing through despite my instincts telling me it was all wrong. Well no more. I owe it to myself as a writer, and to any future readers to deliver a book I was 100% passionate about and proud of.
What do you think about giving up on projects? Is there is ever a good reason to quit on something? Have you ever had a story you were once excited about not work out?