is often the most difficult decision that we have to make. Sometimes things just don’t work and you need to cut your losses and move on for greener pastures. Most of my posts thus far have been relatively positive pep-talks for you and me.
Unfortunately, sometimes there’s no positives that can come from something. And it hurts, bad. Like, real bad.
Here’s my problem. For the past seven months, I have been working on a draft of a steampunk “coming of age” story. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever worked on. Since November, I’ve accomplished a grand total of 49,000 words. Not even enough to claim a NaNo victory.
I think writing this story is probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do. Harder than boot camp, harder than moving away from everyone and everything I’ve loved for a job that was everything but what I dreamed it would be. Harder than all the pain and suffering and defeat I’ve probably ever known.
It’s not that it’s the whole “writing a story” thing, when I’ve got the write idea (pun intended) and the characters are in my head, sometimes writing them is easy as eating or drinking. It’s not the concept, because the story details that I’ve worked out are an excellent concept.
It’s a poorly executed dream. And when I realized this, I started to learn how to let go.
See, my biggest issue was letting myself get too emotionally wrapped up into the story for reasons that I won’t even go into here, because there’s not enough Kleenex and let’s face it. You’re just not that bored to read about it.
I’ve been sitting on this post for about a month now because I wasn’t really sure how it would be received. I don’t even think I knew when I started writing this what the primary problem was. And forgive my rambling, but I’ve found that when I need to vent or clear the cobwebs out, the blog is here. Mostly, it’s advice to myself and the oft chance that someone else might find some pearls of wisdom amongst the dreck and drivel that I spout routine. =)
People shouldn’t get all wrapped up in books. I mean, after all they’re nothing more than words on a page (or screen) right? But try telling that to the librarian who selflessly devotes her time to share the joys of reading with the less fortunate children who wouldn’t blink an eye at a book either way. Tell that the authors who toil endlessly over their craft and creations. Writers write because they can. Readers read because they want to.
But, there’s something strangely mystical about the “book” itself, both the act of creation and the act of reading it. For some, they’re beach reads to kill an hour while they bake in the sun. For others, they’re the lost secrets and histories of the world whose keys can only be found by endless study.
If they’re just words on the page, meaningless and out of context, then try breaking the bad news to the collectors who search the inter tubes day in and day out to collect rarities, signed copies, first editions. you name it, they want it.
Me? I grew up in a house that didn’t read. My mom was too busy trying to raise me right and my dad was too busy to make sure the bills got paid. Books were the farthest thing from my parent’s mind. So, when I was an eager child of about six or seven, Disney just so happened to have the perfect answer to a child’s wonder. They came in chapbooks and cheap hardbacks, serialized adventures of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Goofy…hell, even Pluto got to star in his own adventures.
Every month I would make my parents take me with them to the grocery store. I didn’t whine for the Cocoa Puffs or the Lucky Charms. No, I wanted the Disney books. My parents couldn’t understand it, but they weren’t the ones to question a chance to expand their child’s growing mind.
Yet, they still couldn’t figure it out. Why was I so obsessed with books? Along came my aunt and uncle with the answer to that question.
And therein lies the issue of my discontent. I hated this book I was writing with a passion. I was obsessed with perfection. It wasn’t a book for me, it wasn’t a book for selling. No. It was a gift. To them.
It was supposed to be a thank you for making me some crazy bookworm.
And it failed miserably. Within my quest for perfection, I lost focus and the motivation for my story. Months came and went without me making my deadlines I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. The voice didn’t work, there’s issues with the plot.
You name it, I found the excuse for it. Ashes is my most written and rewritten work. In total, I’ve charted over 100,000 words that went absolutely nowhere. Throwing outlines out halfway through, tearing up whole chapters, rewriting scenes, points of view, everything, anything I could do to keep myself from finishing.
And then I realized the problem.
The book was too perfect that it was disgustingly imperfect. I could do no right with it. I needed to quit.
I felt terrible, crushed even. It was like watching the cat eat your goldfish, your favorite balloon loosening and flying away into the sky.
I gave up.
But, in my defeat I found success. Inside that crushing dread that motivated me to tear my hair out night after night, day after day, I discovered a gem in the muck.
I quit Ashes and finished Hills, rewrote Black, and started Psychic and Night Watch. These were projects that I put away, shelved and believed to be pure crap. After my crushing defeat, I found new life in these works and have worked tirelessly to whittle away the rough bark to leave my own pretty little race car.
And then I presented the absolute rough copy of Hills to my aunt and uncle, just a small token of thanks for their tireless dedication to me.
Soon enough, my other books will be finished with my friendly neighborhood editor. They will be presented in the same fashion, complete with jacket art and interior design. It was as close to published quality as I could get with being unpublished.
And the moral of my story: Find the strength in your weakness. The skies are always most beautiful after the storm.
Don’t be afraid to throw in the towel. When something doesn’t work, don’t sit and kill yourself over trying to turn guano to gold. If it’s meant to be, then it will be.
But, while you’re killing yourself trying to make things work, just think of all the other stories you have waiting to be told.
Sometimes they don’t like to wait. =)
Beautiful post, Dave, and just what I needed to hear at the moment, given how stuck I am with the end of Muse. Just two scenes left to write and I can’t make myself do it… Perhaps I just need to leave this draft for now and work on something else.
I can sympathize. I can even empathize, a little, but I’ve never had to ashcan something I got that far. I have, however, had to finally admit that the last 200 pages I had written just flat didn’t work, go back to page 37 and rewrite a scene that occurred there, then start over again from that new foundation, which ultimately produced a very different story than the one I had started out to write.
Honesty is a good thing, however, even when we have to admit that what we’ve been pouring ourselves into is fatally flawed. Better to realize it, learn from it, and move on,
I think you make some great points. Along with that is the advice I’ve heard from many the published author. Do the best job you can on a project, do your editing, then either trash it if it really doesn’t cut what you think is good quality, or send it out and forget about it. Get started on something else. I agree. It can be hard to let that idea you know is SO good pass by so you can improve your craft by moving on. I’ve struggled with the concept a lot and honestly, I’ve submitted a lot of crap, but the process has been (still is) good for me. I don’t think anyone looks down on your crap unless you don’t have the guts to keep working to get better.