Gotta Know When to Fold’em

To date this month, I’ve written just under 60,000 words.  Most of that was on my SF novel project.  However, nothing seemed to be coming together with the novel and I kept throwing out whole scenes and chapters and starting again and again trying to make the plot gel.  I kept doing this until the fun was gone and all I could do is sit and write and then delete and try again and hate every second of it.

So I’m sort of quitting that novel for now.  Not forever.  Just for now.  It’s a complex plot, more involved with more POVs and more threads than I’ve ever tried to write before.  Which is a good thing, since I think it’s healthy to stretch my writing muscles and make myself deal with something I’m weaker on like complicated plotting.  But beating myself up about it not coming together wasn’t helping anything.

It’s really hard for me to admit I need to take a step back from this project.  I follow Heinlein’s Rules, after all.  Rule 2 is “finish what you write”.  When stepping away from this, I had to ask myself honestly if I wanted to put it down for now because that’s the healthy thing to do? Or am I just walking away because this is difficult?  It’s one thing to set something down and let it percolate a little more.  It’s another to start forming a habit of dropping a project the moment it gets rocky.  I don’t want to form a habit of not finishing things, because nothing will kill a writing career faster than not finishing, except maybe not starting.  (If I don’t start, I can’t finish, if I don’t finish, I can’t submit, if I don’t submit, I can’t sell…see?)

So I’m making a compromise with myself.  I’m stepping back from this novel.  I’m still going to keep up my writing streak and go for my necessary 3,000 words a day and a short story on weekends (the numbers I need to hit my annual goals).  And I’m designating Mondays as the day to work on this novel (minimum one page/250 words).  If I have to just write it scene by scene and take 40 weeks to finish, I’ll finish.  Meanwhile, the rest of the days will be devoted to other projects that I feel more comfortable with.  I figure that this is a good compromise.  I’m not quitting this novel entirely, but I’m giving myself breathing room on it while hopefully continuing to develop my skills enough that the sort of complicated plot I want to construct here will become an easier thing for me.  I’m tired of second guessing myself and deleting words and basically letting my critical voice eat away at me.  I’m a better writer than that and I should know better.

So that’s what’s up with me right now.  I’m turning to short stories while I get a couple of novels formatted for e-publishing and then I’ll be back to novel writing in March (working on a fantasy novel with a nice straightforward quest/romance plot and only one or two POVs, thank god).

I’ve fallen behind on the Write 1/Sub 1 challenge by 3 short stories, so I intend to catch up this week and next.  Also next week I have two workshops back to back, so I think that will help recharge my batteries and be really interesting and amazing as always (but especially with the changes in the industry right now… being around multiple professional writers for an entire week is going to be very, very educational).

10 Responses to “Gotta Know When to Fold’em”

  1. Ben Godby

    I dig it. I mean, it sucks to abandon stuff. But, for example, I “abandoned” a finished novel – 110,000 words – last year and just dug it out a few days ago, and I love it. Although I followed Heinlein’s rules really intensely last year, I’m starting to realize that they don’t always make sense for me. When you take the long view of things, and consider that all those electronic words you write with never truly moulder in a drawer, you really don’t have to worry so much about not finishing something. It will still be waiting when you’re ready for it.

    • izanobu

      Yeah. That’s why I’m going to take it out and poke it every week. That way I’m just letting it sit a little, not stopping entirely. I’m more comfortable with that idea than with complete abandonment. 🙂

  2. L. M. May

    Here’s a neat trick I learned from a pro that can help to figure out what’s going on when a story jams (I’m pretty sure it was David Morrell’s trick, but it might have been Lawrence Block.)

    1.) Open up Notepad or TextFile on the computer.
    2.) Call a meeting of the characters. Imagine sitting down with them.
    3.) Now type in “What’s wrong? Why are things jamming up?”
    4.) Write everyone’s responses down, including your own. Keep going until the characters and you run out of things to say.
    5.) Now type in “What do I need to do to get this story moving again? What do you need?”
    6.) Write down everyone’s responses.

    I’ve been surprised at how well it works. Sometimes the problem turns out to be a missing scene, or that I need to throw the entire draft out and start over, or that the story isn’t ready to be written, or that I’ve simply got a bad case of self-doubt and need to plow onwards.

    It’s weird to have imaginary characters bitching at me in my head during the “meeting” as I transcribe stuff down, but so far it’s always been a help to do the exercise (if only to nail down what the problem is).

    • izanobu

      Thanks, L.M. 🙂

      The problem isn’t a story jam, it’s a skill jam. I know exactly (more or less) what happens and why and when, but I’m just not writing it to my satisfaction. It’s hard to describe. The story is moving along, but when I write it I just don’t feel confident that I’m weaving the threads together in the right way so that when I pull it tight later (it’s sort of a conspiracy/thriller type plot) the picture makes sense. So I’m not sure the characters can help me in this case.

      Who knows though? I might try that exercise. It can’t hurt 🙂 (Of course, there’d be about 10 characters in that room that I’d need to “talk” to, which might give you an idea of the scope of this book. When I said multiple POVs, I meant multiple 🙂 )

      • L. M. May

        I know exactly what you mean by a skill jam, Annie. Boy are those frustrating. And you’re right, sometimes it’s better just to back off for a bit.

        If you decide to do Morrell’s experiment, ask your characters what you could do to get them across to readers. They might surprise you with their answers 😀 (Geeze do I sound borderline schizo to myself typing this.)

      • L. M. May

        Another tactic I’ve used with a skill jam was to find a writer whose work I admired who’d done what I wanted to do (and was failing at), and then pick apart that piece of writing to see how the structure worked. Then I’d write my own version, but would “mirror” the better writer’s structure–different characters, different plot, different style, but same structure and pacing.

        Sigh, you may have already tried this.

      • Charlie

        And aren’t we all borderline schizo with all these characters in our heads?

  3. Charlie

    I completely understand what you are talking about…when the words on the page do not do justice to the idea in your head. You are taking the right approach. Set it aside and let it breathe a while. Sometimes that is all it takes in order to see the threads more clearly. My current project is edging on 7 or 8 POVs and sometimes I want to punch my novel in the face…if it had one.

  4. David Barron

    I missed this post, but I feel it. Since my goal has been to Write Fast/Write Great
    AND I have a convenient queue of at least five things to write at any time, if a particular thing stalls, I’ve been going for another thing to refresh my mind
    BUT while doing my best to push the stalled thing forward, even by one tortuous line of dialogue per day at a time until something snaps and it finishes.
    Then I finish the next things.

    I think it’s fair, with “Finish What You Write”, to append “…Eventually.”

  5. e6n1

    I learnt from sculpture that if an artist keeps tweaking and whittling away at a WIP, there is a risk of making a big error. Sometimes the best way is to leave it when you’re 80% done with it and come back later.

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