I am struggling with writing my novel right now, and it’s been difficult to scuttle through this particular rough patch. Luckily, it occurred to me that one of the ways I could inch myself up this uphill, winding road is to write my way out of it and get to the root cause. And I don’t think there is enough in the writing blogosphere that is written when things aren’t going well for the writer. To me, it seems like advice from writers comes after things are gliding along smoothly for them. The tone in their advice has a feeling of fullness because they’ve already healed the cuts and bruises from scraping through the tunnel. Me, on the other hand, I’m still stumbling around in the dark; My WIP is dead in the water. The words aren’t flowing through like they did when I wrote my first novel. It’s mostly due to this rather fickle beast trying to commandeer my writing down two different directions: Should I quit and move on to another project? Or, should I weather on?
On the one hand, this beast is telling me, “Hey, look man, things aren’t going all that well. You might want to think about axing this project. Just shelf it for another time and come play with these other cool, new, completely fun, and amazing ideas. You can come back to this dragging book when you’re a more experienced writer.” Then, the other side of the beast kindly reminds me that I should be able to recognize the falsity of that temptation at this point. “Ignore the lures of the sirens and the sparkle motion of their voice!” She clutches my arm and directs me back to the stagnant manuscript before my eyes. All the while she’s whispering in my ear that I need to finish this project. Only when I’m done with the first draft can I take a break and try my hand at something else. None of this seesaw play is new, mind you. This is a tired old act I’ve experienced before, but this time it feels more visceral. When I find myself just staring at my manuscript, I’m tempted to shift to the shiny, new writing ideas that seem more interesting. They might not even be good, but somehow they seem more enticing because they are something different. And perhaps the first voice is right. . . I probably could bring more to this lulling story after I’ve further sharpened my writing tools in other projects.
I don’t know what the rules are. In fact, I don’t even know if there are any when it comes to what is the threshold you need to pass before you should consider giving up on a writing project. Let’s be honest here, there are some things that need to be abandoned—or at least shelved for later. But I never want to use that escape goat unless I feel that I’m truly compromising my vision for that particular project. When I start to feel as if the writing is not a true expression of myself, then I’ll quit. For all other scenarios, I would like to glue myself to the ideal that no matter how unbearable the writing process is, even if it ends up being a flaming pile of shit, I can learn more from the process by sticking to it. At least until the first draft. I think that weathering it to the first draft would net me more insights and growth than just dedicating a little time to a manuscript and abandoning it at the first sign of trouble. Writing is hard, but that’s nothing new either. And it hasn’t been all bad. There have been some blocks of peace where I could poke my head out of the trenches and scribble down something quick. When the words come, they come in short, ecstatic bursts like Morse code transmissions. It’s hard, but I don’t feel like I’m compromising myself. I just don’t feel a continuous momentum behind the writing.
This haphazard pace has also pushed out the moment of reaching critical mass: the moment where I spot the whale and go after it tenaciously. With this on and off writing approach, it’s taking a lot longer to even see the whale’s blow, further fueling this urge to quit the project. In my mind, if I’m 30k words in and I still don’t see where the story is supposed to go, something might be wrong. Much of that, I’m realizing now, is my fault. It occurs to me that I stare blankly at my novel’s manuscript, wondering what my characters will do next. . .because I don’t really know them. I think the lack of depth to my characters is choking up my story. How do I know this? I can’t feel them making decisions yet, and I think it’s because I haven’t fleshed them out yet. I haven’t had the chance to get to that point because I’m doing the heavy research required for this book in tandem with writing it.
Writing and Researching
I jumped into writing this book while still researching as a way to prevent myself from becoming feverish with worldbuilder’s disease. Trying to build up the science behind this particular book involves research into genetics, speed of communication, faster than light travel, & artificial intelligence to name a few. Doing that all while writing is proving difficult. There are some backstage mechanics I have to drill down to such minute, granular details and understand before I can really get into the creation process. Only after solidifying certain rules can I know the arena in which my characters can frolic and wreak havoc. In knowing what havoc they can wreak/what they’re capable of, I can get to know them better. My story is stagnant because I don’t know my characters. I don’t know my characters because I don’t know how they can behave without knowing the rules of my world. And I don’t know the rules of my world because I’m still researching the backbone of my story to craft them. The root, I think, is that I’ve forced the story prematurely.
I had this idea in my head that if I wasn’t directly increasing the word count of a given story, it wasn’t counted as writing. That’s untrue. Writing is more than just the wordsmithing part. It’s mulling over ideas in your head, researching, wordsmithing, tinkering, & sharing. It didn’t occur to me that it’s okay to spend some unadulterated time researching. That incubation period might be the key, especially in research-intensive stories. I think having that would have helped my ideas for the story face much less friction while flowing out of the creative mill. It’s a fine balancing act because spending too much time researching and doing no writing has its own set of problems too.
Each story I work on might require its own unique approach, and I have to be open to that. Even if trying to figure out which approach might be akin to being some manic driver in stop and go traffic. You know, the lead-footed one who has to lurch their car to the shoulder every 5 seconds to avoid rear-ending someone else. It’s a frustrating process, but eventually you’ll get to see what’s holding up all the traffic. You only get that though if you weather on. 🙂