Last week, Jennifer R. Hubbard blogged about writers making the decision to stop working on a particular project. I thought it was a good post, and particularly interesting because Jenn talks about having files “full of projects that I took through a few chapters or a few drafts, but then abandoned” (if, as she clarifies, abandoned can mean very possibly picking up the project again, at some unpredictable point in the future). This was interesting to me, because–as my first thought was–I have no projects that I abandoned by choice, because I actively decided I was not writing that project.
I have lots of stuff from the years before I was what I consider truly committed to doing this writing thing, but really–those were stopped from fear or laziness or just not writing–not from me consciously saying “No, not now.” And I do have a drawer-for-now novel, one that got me close to agents but, so far, not one who really wanted it.
But I don’t have (Foreshadowing: Or so I thought) any that I thoughtfully stopped writing.
Except, I do. And I remembered it this morning when I was emailing with a critique partner about the post.
I have the book that I worked on for years, that I essentially got nowhere on. It is a mystery novel, and my process for it was essentially to write a chapter, send that off to my critique group, wait until the critque-group meeting (because how could I write forward until I heard what they had to say–yikes!), get their feedback, revise that chapter, write the next, send it off to my critique group, wait… You can see the picture. Every now and then I’d get an idea about the beginning, go back, and start over. Multiple times.
Eventually, I fell in love with an idea for my first kids’ book and slid that mystery into a box. To be honest, with a lot of relief and not much regret. I told my critique group that I wanted to try out this kids’ book instead and–here was a clue–they pretty much encouraged me to make the change. Yes, they were (and are) supportive, but I think they also had the same feeling about that first book, that it and I were going nowhere together.
So, yes, it was the right project to put away.
What about the ones that shouldn’t be put away. Jenn talks about trusting her gut–and, yes, that’s important. My critique partner & I also talked about how and why we decide to keep going. Because, in every project, there will be a moment when you hate it. When you don’t know where you’re going, when you look at the timeline this is taking you into the future and you feel like the end of the tunnel is miles and miles and miles away. So why (and when) do you keep going.
Like Jenn said, boredom is bad. Boredom had a lot to do with me being so happy to switch to the kids’ book and let the mystery go. Other feelings, though, are signs that maybe (probably) I need to push on: feelings like frustration, confusion, anger. Those feelings usually come along because there’s something in the story I haven’t figured out–something I really need to know. Well, that need is not just about the moment, about the scene or the character. It’s about me–if I back off and give up on the need, how is that going to make me happy. Whereas, if I grab another ounce of writer-faith and keep staring, keep thinking, keep brainstorming with my critique group, there’s a chance that I will reach understanding, that I WILL find an answer. And, typically, at that moment, what I want to do most is stay with this story.
Through the whole, long, dark tunnel.