Friday, May 7, 2010

GUEST POST: When to give it up

Readerly Person is a B.A. candidate in Political Science at U.C. Berkley in California, and blogs at Elephants On Trapezes. She is currently hard at work on an as-yet-unnamed novel (which was originally called "Project Voldemort").

About a week ago I was roughly 12,000 words into my work in progress. Now, 12,000 words isn't bad. It's about a fifth of many YA novels out there (a genre I'm tentatively placing my project in). If indeed I had been one fifth through my novel and happily puttering along, everything would have been fine. However, things weren't fine. Not in the least.

The problem was that I'd been working on this project since January, and was still only at 12,000 words. You think that's bad, try this: only 1,000 of them had been written in the last two months.

I have many problems when it comes to writing, perfectionism and procrastination being chief among them, so even while my progress on this project had slowed to the merest trickle I was still trying to power through. I tried writing by hand, writing in the morning, writing under the light of the midnight moon... Still nothing. I was completely and utterly without words. And even worse, I was completely and utterly without the motivation to continue.

I must be clear: hitting a slump does not mean it's time to throw away your baby. There are many times when a brisk walk around the block, a tweak of character here and a cliffhanger chapter there will get the writing engines rumbling once more. But this slump was not just a slump. It was the loss of all desire to write this story. And after a few nights of (hard) thinking, it came to me: I'd started out with a vision of the story, and its current position was nowhere near what I'd wanted it to be.

A little general background: this project started out as a fairy tale, but to obscure its origins I'd moved some people to an island, thrown in extraneous characters, and killed off original monsters, the end result being that I'd made it into every other generic YA fantasy/adventure in the world. Beside the fact that no one wants their story to be generic, I missed the original tale terribly. I wanted it back, and there was no way to get there from its morphed position.

So I threw it out, all 12,000 words, and started over. And now it's better. Better as in I find myself thinking about the story when I'm not writing it, world-building when I should be studying for my finals, even dreaming about it occasionally. And finally (finally!) I'm getting stuff done.

This is not to say that one should throw away every project once interest is lost. But there are times when a slump is not just a slump, and it's important to recognize that sometimes there are worse things to do than start over.


Stephanie Thornton said...

There are many times when I want to throw the towel in, but I always manage to keep plugging along. It's especially hard for me with first drafts. I hate not knowing if what I'm writing is going to get axed in revisions.

Unknown said...

You're not starting over. The 12,000 words you aren't going to use are still going to help you know the new version of your story better. Now you just know a few things that it is not.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm the opposite from Stephanie on the first drafts - that's where I have the power and energy to drive through to the end. It's on revisions that I have a hard time, wondering if I really want to scrap the whole beast, or do the hard work to make it into something reasonable.

I've haven't yet stalled out part-way in, but I can see that happening, if the story turned into something I hadn't really wanted in the first place (pesky stories!). Starting over is certainly worthwhile.

L. T. Host said...

Thank you for writing this post for us :)

I have to say, I generally have momentum with a new project to carry through. If I hit a slump, it's because I don't know where my plot is going, and once I figure that out I'm fine.

But, I haven't yet had a story go where I didn't want it to. I can see how in that instance it would indeed be best to start over. Great post!

Matthew Delman said...

I've stalled out a few dozen times. Sometimes, as with my current WiP, I do the reboot in the midst of revisions when I realize it would be easier to write the whole thing over.

For the first few years I started writing (in HS) I used have to this "page 60 phobia" -- by that I mean I'd get to page 60 of the story and lose all my momentum. Now that doesn't happen as often, but I did completely kill 21 chapters of my recent WiP because the tone wasn't right.

Joshua McCune said...

My current WiP is at a huge crossroads right now -- I can take it the direction it's going and it might spiral out of control, or I can rein it in, cut out the last few chapters and go for something not as big. The epic fantasy part of me wants to go full bore, but the realist in me wants to tone it down. I even had an outline for this one, which halfway fell by the wayside once pacing took control.

Glad you've rediscovered your mojo.

Rebecca Wells said...

Thanks for having me!

I'm actually usually the "plow through it" person, since otherwise I get paralyzed by perfectionism, but this time it just wasn't working.

It's always great to hear about other writers' processes, though.

- Rebecca

ali cross said...

Yes! You are so right. It takes courage to write, but it takes double-the-amount to throw something out that isn't working. Kudos to you! ♥