Photo by Amy Spanos
I get a ton of emails from folks sharing their work with me: excerpts, complete opening chapters, whole novels. I wish I had time to read them all and give feedback, so I try to at least skim through. What I started noticing was an overwhelming number of people that spend years writing 1 book. And, I mean, 2, 3, or even 5 years. They start on it, get frozen in the middle, start again, manage to finish 1st Draft. Shelve it. Either because they're busy with a their job or family, or they claim to have writer's block and simply can't move on. They feel the story has lost something, drained its essence and doesn't excite them anymore. Yet, stubborn like a mule, they continue chipping away at it. And so they ask me for advice. What do I do? How do I move on? How do I unblock myself? How do I finish? Here is my answer to you, and it will come as a shocker.
DROP IT. MOVE ON TO THE NEXT BOOK.
If it's emotionally drained, you're done. You might have the perfect set of characters, the amazig setting and tightly wound conflict, a plot to die for, all strung with stunning rivulets of prose. But your heart is not in it, something doesn't sit right. Instead of getting excited at the prospect of writing it, every day drags on like torture. Here is the thing, and it's not me who said it, but Stephen King in his ON WRITING. Write fast. Write while the idea is fresh in your mind, without looking back, before doubt sets in and starts poisoning you with its endless questions and demands for perfection. It took me 6 weeks to bang out the 1st Draft of Siren Suicides, and only because I charged ahead like mad, afraid to stop and never start again (I gave up twice before). King says it takes him 2 to 3 months to write his 1st Draft. Now, add to that several months for Draft 2, 3, 4, maybe 5. And you've got about 6 months to 1 year at the most that it should take you to write 1 book. 1 year being an extreme in this case. It doesn't matter if you're writing only on the evenings or weekends, the story lives on in your head, and unless you're George R. R. Martin and are writing an epic similar in volume to A Game of Thrones, forget about spending years on your work. Feel stuck? Move on. I can tell you that right now I'm on my last breath with Siren Suicides. I started writing it on May 15th of 2012, and I will be done on May 1st or before of this year, making it a 1 year long project. Granted, it turned into 3 books, but I am done. DONE. I can feel it, feel it in how long it takes me to get back into the story every day. I can't wait to finish and move on.
Writer's block is an excuse for procrastination. Okay, I know you are now shaking your fists at me and spitting out your drink on the computer screen, reading this. How dare I accuse the biggest pain of all writers to be non-existent? Well, here is the deal, it's very convenient to hide behind it and find reasons for not doing your daily work, which is hard work, it's highly emotional and draining and at times it's seems impossible to be able to move yourself deep into your pain to extract brilliance and write it down. But without daily sitting down nothing happens, your story won't write itself. Instead, you will be spending countless hours with friends, who will sympathize with you and pour you drinks and feed you cookies. What other profession has that? What if the next time you went to a bank to get your money, the teller would complain of lack of inspiration to go and get you your cash? It's a ridiculous idea, isn't it? Now, I'm not discounting writer's block all together, and I wrote about my own writer's block before, which I now realize is more of an anxiety. What I'm trying to make you see is the fact that if day in and day out you sit in front of you screen, barely being able to type a paragraph, chances are, you're done with the story and are ready to move on. It doesn't excite you anymore, doesn't drown you in its endless sea of possibility. You're done. It's a hard thing to admit, and maybe even your story is not finished. So what? You learned something from writing it. Stop. Take a break. Take a week off and read a ton of books. There will be a spark, I can guarantee you, and you will feel like rolling again. A new idea will excite you and you will find yourself banging away and feeling invigorated like never before. Or do crazy flash fiction to get yourself going.
You didn't waste time, you became a better writer. If one reason you're afraid to move on is the time and effort you put into your book, don't fret! It's not lost, in fact, it's your learning ground. The fact that you wrote has made you a better writer, and the fact that you are letting go says that you are turning into a professional writer who knows when to start and when to stop, when enough is enough. Books are what writers produce, it's like growing apples. Sometimes the crop is bad and so we try to make it into jam or maybe, at the last resort, have to feed them off to pigs or llamas or blue striped flamingoes, depends on what kinds of pets you have in your house. In any case, there is no past, it's a concept in our head. There is no future, so no use fretting about it. There is only now, and right now you feel stuck and uninspired. It's not worth it dwelling on being stuck, because you would be better off spending this time writing something new. Now, in case you think I come across too bossy here, I will tell you why. Ready?
Whenever I write my blog posts, they are like encouragement to myself, it's the stuff I tell myself in my head, well, I used to tell this stuff to myself in my head, as long as I can remember, because I had nobody to encourage me, so I encouraged myself. And right now I'm done with Siren Suicides, done! I have 10 more Chapters to go, which is roughly 20 days, and every ounce of my being is struggling every day when faced with the prospect of going in. I took too long, did too many Drafts, I need to move on and I'm scared, like you. But it's a good thing, it's the ending of one story and the beginning of another.
So, let's move on then, both you and me! (Well, I have 3 more weeks of editing to go...)