Frustration Saturation

Can I use two -tion words right after the other? Well, yes, I can, because that’s how I’m feeling. I’ve heard so many people talk about reaching this stage in a writing project, where they’re so unhappy with the work they’re doing, the story they’re trying to tell, that they feel like…

Well, that I feel like

  • Putting this book away and finishing up the revisions on Picture Book #1
  • Putting this book away and starting the revisions on Picture Book #2
  • Putting this book away and digging out one of the MG ideas I’ve been tossing into files for the past two years
  • Putting this book away and doing major revisions on the MG novel in a drawer I still love
  • Putting this book away and Fill in the Blank

There are three things stopping me from doing any of the above.

  1. My innate and seriously deep-running stubbornness. If you don’t believe me, just ask my mom.
  2. The wonderful critique partner who said to me, “What do you mean figuring out character stuff instead of working on the book? How is that not working on the book?”
  3. The absolute knowledge that if I drop this, there will be a HUGE bump in the learning curve that I haven’t surmounted, that will be there waiting for me on whatever novel I decide would be easier, more fun, a happier place to spend my writing time.

If I have ever sounded flip or unsympathetic to any of you going through this stage, I apologize with all my heart. This stinks. I have no idea where I am going to go with this book. I do believe the next step is to back up and, yes, figure out my characters. This may mean buying a new, fresh copy of Donald Maass’ Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook. It may mean filling out those character charts that I hate. It may (and almost certainly will) mean spending hours staring at a new file on the computer or a notebook in my hand and filling the page with doodling ideas about who these people are, who my hero is, what she wants. It may mean major brainstorming sessions with my critique group.

I am going to let myself work on those picture books, too. Right now, they seem to be the light in my writing time, and I don’t want to give that up. Besides which, they seem to spell the word progress, which is important for my sense of Yes, I’m Writing! But…here’s the thing.

One of my husband and son’s favorite books is a science-fiction novel called Armor by John Steakley. I haven’t read the book, but they tell me that in the story, one character Felix, gets attacked by ants, which aren’t actual ants, but some kind of “multi-limbed, insectile, chitonous, hive-minded, three-meter-tall aliens. With heat rays.” (Descriptive summary, thanks to Son.) Anyway, Felix is pretty much doomed not to survive. Another character, Jack Crow, finds recordings of Felix’s experiences during the battles, which show Jack why and how Felix keeps going in the face of absolute disaster. Jack says that Felix just flatly refuses to die. The quote, to the best of son’s memory, is: “The ants will get him. But not this one. Do you know why? Because it pisses him off.

This book may beat me. But not today. Do you know why? Because the thought of losing to this story pisses me off.


  1. UGH! I’m so sorry you’re going through this, Becky. It truly sucks. In my (limited, I grant you) experience, epic frustration happens just before the point when a breakthrough is looming around the bend. So, yeah, be pissed off because anger doesn’t let you give up. And as long as you don’t give up (even if it ends up in a drawer temporarily) the book CAN’T beat you.


    • beckylevine says:

      I think you’re right. Hitting “bottom” always pushes me to find a new, better way up out of that spot. And that does usually lead to breakthrough! Fingers crossed. And thanks!


  2. Jenn Hubbard says:

    Been there. It does suck. But it’s not a permanent state, fortunately–either one unlocks the story or moves on to something else, but either way, the effort is not wasted.


  3. I know exactly the place you’re in – and it does suck. The only good thing is that you’ll start to figure out what you need to do to get unstuck. Or that maybe you’re not really stuck but maybe afraid – it’s scary to write a novel, to revise, to finish, etc. In any case, I’m here for you – cheering you on. I’ve been in that place many many times. Have some chocolate – sometimes that helps! hugs!


    • beckylevine says:

      I know, it does mean I’m not going to keep spinning my wheels and telling myself I’m moving forward. I keep thinking of you working through the writing books & blogging about it–I think there may be some Breakout Novel posts for a while! Assuming (and hoping) that it gets me thinking. 🙂


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