It’s Amazing What You Can Forget

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 itΒ  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.

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19 thoughts on “It’s Amazing What You Can Forget

  1. Becky, interesting thoughts. I enjoyed Jennifer’s post as well.

    For a long time, I had a drawer full of abandoned beginnings of novels. I thought I suffered from a lack of stick-to-it-ness. I eventually discovered that that was wrong. My real problem was that I was trying to make novels out of short stories. Once I accepted that, and learned to tell the difference between what’s a short story idea and what is a novel-length project, my abandoned file has virtually disappeared.

    Some ideas are a spark, and never go anywhere. It’s tough to know when to give up.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Oh, I love that discovery, Ramona–yes, trying to make something fit into another pattern will leave you trailing off, I think. Yay for that empty file. πŸ™‚

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  2. What would we do without those other hands to hold while going through the tunnel?

    But you know – when I think about my own writing history and all the projects I’ve left behind – I see many of them as simply practice – getting ready for the story that does not bore me! Seems like it always comes back to passion. At the moment I am coming back to one of my very first ideas – I loved it but it wasn’t enough. It was a setting really instead of a story. But now it is becoming part of a much larger, deeper and wider story. I had to wait nearly twenty years to use it but oh well… I’m thrilled to pick it back up again.

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    • beckylevine says:

      “Setting instead of a story”–I really like that. I think my original mystery was something like that–almost just a form/genre, but no real specific story. I’m so glad you’ve come back to it and are in love again!

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  3. In the early years I abandoned writing projects because once I started, I discovered how hard it was to write and I believed at the time, if it was hard to do, then it wasn’t good. I wasn’t good. Now I realize that the words don’t just flow onto the page, it takes work to get them there. I doubt I’ll ever go back to those abandoned novels. My focus has changed. And the one I recently set aside, I’ll go back to once my subconscious has finished working out the details πŸ™‚

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  4. Jenn Hubbard says:

    Wow, Becky, I’m glad my post inspired such a thoughtful response! I feel like I put an orange on the table and you turned it into duck a l’orange! πŸ™‚

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    • beckylevine says:

      Ha! I don’t even LIKE duck! πŸ™‚ It was just a bit weird to think, for that whole day, huh–this has never happened to me, then to realize the next day that I’d totally blanked out on that project!

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  5. Cool post, Becky.

    I have several novels in various stages of completion. Only time will tell if they are forever abandoned, or just fermenting.

    Perhaps some will become short stories, or essays. Maybe one will morph into mystery.

    In uncertainty lies all possibility.

    Write on!

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    • Well, it is a lack of control ~ it’s going with the flow, and TRUSTING that your intuition/inner spirit/the Universe will attract your attention where it needs to be when it needs to be there.

      In the meantime, if you’re enjoying the journey, you’re on the right track.

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  6. Interesting post, Becky!

    I have a drawer that I’ve deemed my “island of misfit ideas.” I go back to it every now and then, but so far most of them haven’t found a proper home πŸ˜‰

    I think we’re drawn to what we should be working on. Yes, there are times in life where laziness and distractions might deter us from certain projects, but the real-deal ideas will keep calling.

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