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WALKING THE WALK WHEN YOU WRITE

A (paraphrased) question I see all the time on message boards, in chats and on blogs, and in personal conversations: 

“I recently completed a—” (usually first, but not always) “–novel and I’ve been revising and/or editing it for—” (X number of days, weeks, or months) “—and I’m to the point right now where I can’t look at it anymore. I want to take a break and work on—” (usually a brand new work they’ve been thinking about for a while) “—something else. What do you think?”

I think you're nuts.

OK, back up. :)

I've noticed that the majority of the time, the writer in question receives the following advice from others: Sure! Take a break! You deserve it. Go work on your Something Else for a while.

The rest the time, he talks to someone like me. And the answer I give usually isn’t the one he wants. 

My Answer:

First of all, it’s always okay to take a break. Some writers burn out  more quickly than others. After spending weeks and months revising, rewording, slashing, adding, and agonizing whether you’re making your story better or worse, it might be a good idea to step away for a while.  However, keep in mind that, if you do step away, that first step immediately lands you on a very slippery slope. 

This is why. Ask yourself the following questions:

What are the chances you WILL go back to that manuscript? How many previously unfinished projects do you have under your belt? Not necessarily writing projects. What is your history of following up on things? Because it's hard to believe you've gotten that far in your manuscript, and now you’re willing to quit because you’re tired of the work.

How many people do you know who have two, three, ten, or twenty unfinished manuscripts stashed in a drawer? Do you know why they have all those unfinished manuscripts? Because they either got bored with them, or because they realized too late how much mental labor (and time) is involved in thoroughly and effectively transforming a first draft into a final draft that's ready to to be shared with an agent or editor. 

Are you serious about being published? Remember, writing is a profession. Some people write full-time, some part-time, some every now and then. Regardless of how often they're published, those who are successful begin a project and follow it through to the end. They don’t stop and start. They don’t jump from one thing to another to another, leaving a trail of unfinished projects in their wake. 

Writing is a business, and a highly competitive one at that.  It’s hard to break into, but obviously not impossible. You have to stop thinking like an amateur and start thinking like a pro, whether or not you’ve sold anything before. Otherwise you might as well resign yourself to writing as a hobby—which is fine, of course, if that’s all you want, and all you expect of yourself. 

So aside from a brief break to regroup your thoughts, maybe do some brainstorming, or veg out in front of the TV with bonbons for a few hours—please, stop whining and go finish your manuscript!

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Patrick Dilloway
May. 17th, 2011 04:34 pm (UTC)
I prefer to let the manuscript sit for a couple months after I complete the first draft. Then it's easier to look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes you just need the objectivity and change of perspective that gives you.
onegrapeshy
May. 17th, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
I agree. Though I don't work that way myself, I completely understand how it would help to give the ms some breathing time before you tackle the revisions.

I'm talking about people who've finished the ms, but quit as they near the end of the revisions--which I've done myself on exactly one occasion (about halfway through) when I realized, revisions or no revisions, the whole storyline sucked.
ophelialaughs
May. 17th, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC)
Sadly, my process seems to be complete immersion followed by complete avoidance. I realize I may never be all that successful due to this (and I'm okay with that--although I'd like to be successful, I don't need it. Well, much.)

However, I've never once been able to go work on something else. (I have exactly one unfinished MS not including the WIP and it's a NaNovel...and I might or might not ever go back to it. I'd like to, but it may be too badly damaged.) I believe when I'm avoiding, the muse/subconscious/guys in the basement are still working, and its mostly my job to stay out of their way until they untangle whatever mess I made, and start sending up product again. So I'm not siphoning off creativity on some other project. I'm reading or cleaning or sim-farming or dogging or watching movies.

Yeah, I know. LOOO-zer. But it's the closest thing to something that works for me that I've found so far.
onegrapeshy
May. 17th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC)
So I'm not siphoning off creativity on some other project. I'm reading or cleaning or sim-farming or dogging or watching movies.

I hear ya, lol.

Some authors do successfully work on more than one project on a time. I have no idea how they do it.
ophelialaughs
May. 17th, 2011 05:39 pm (UTC)
Those people drive me crazy, because they're always telling me I should be working on more than one thing at once, and I can't. But they insist I can. But I can't. GRR.
onegrapeshy
May. 17th, 2011 06:04 pm (UTC)
Me either!
(Deleted comment)
onegrapeshy
May. 18th, 2011 01:18 pm (UTC)
Ha, Deb. And it's still eluding me (and most of my readers, too)!
(Deleted comment)
onegrapeshy
May. 18th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
I actually thought of this as I was writing the post. I wanted to write: do you think artists have 50 damn half-finished works sitting all over their houses?

And then I thought: Yep, I bet some of them do. So I kept my mouth shut on that one. :D
Kimberly J. Byrd Lucas
May. 17th, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
I don't dare quit
Although, at times, life has sidelined me somewhat from writing. I don't dare stop one project until it's done. I know myself too well. I'm a multi-tasker -- a generalist who loves to jump from one thing to the next -- and if I stop one project to do something else, I'd never go back. I would turn into one of those writers with 600 started books under their bed and none finished. So, as much as I sometimes hate it, I tend to stick to one thing at a time.
onegrapeshy
May. 18th, 2011 01:21 pm (UTC)
Re: I don't dare quit
That's probably very wise for those of us who know our limitations. :)
jeannineatkins
May. 17th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC)
Jeannine, I wouldn't always give it and I wouldn't always follow it, but I love that you're out here giving your take-no-prisoners advice!

Now off to work, keeping all whining to myself, you note (um, sort of?)
onegrapeshy
May. 18th, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
HA, Jeannine! I can't even picture you whining. I picture you more as a throw-the-damn-thing-against-the-wall kinda chick.
another_wip
May. 17th, 2011 08:23 pm (UTC)
Just git 'er done!
Oh Jen, you lovely giver of practical advice and common sense :) Thanks for this post. While I totally believe that each writer works in their own way (and lord knows under-the-porch-one-till-its-done works SO well for Holly I am jealous!) I totally agree that those who really want to write professionally need to comport themselves as pros, quit whining, and write till the work is done.

Don't race after every new idea as it presents itself. Make a note of them so you don't forget, maybe even jot down a rough scene or two in quick fashion, then put it aside and finish your WIP. If you are half way through a series, don't leap off into another project until this one is complete.

Writing is a job, and those tedious edits turn that first draft into a polished work worthy of presentation. (Actually I love edits, but then I am one of those odd ducks who also actually can and does love working two projects at one time. One key being I have always multi-tasked of necessity and I think I am pretty good at it.)

No more whining (except about the weather, lol) and back to work! I have a nekkid hero in need of an audience :)

Thanks for the reminder, Jen
onegrapeshy
May. 18th, 2011 01:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Just git 'er done!
"Don't race after every new idea as it presents itself."

Exactly. Someone used the term "self-indulgent" which I think fits this scenario quite accurately.
crissachappell
May. 18th, 2011 11:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Just git 'er done!
Yes yes yes. Because once you've finished the first draft....the real work begins (gulp).
onegrapeshy
May. 19th, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
Re: Just git 'er done!
Yes--but it's the FUN part, remember? ;) ;) ;)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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