A few months back I Rambled about considering stoppage on my current novel to start from scratch and write something else. Shortly after, I realized how much work that is—starting from scratch—and immediately jumped back into the comfort and security of my novel that is roughly 60 percent complete.
As it always is in life, changes come.
In the last month I’ve found myself very resistant to working on that book. I assumed it was laziness, that I simply wasn’t spending enough time writing, but that’s not true. I’ve been writing. Not as much as I could, sure, but I’m still taking time to put words onto page in various forms. I often have the itch to write, and I often scratch it. Normally this would be a great opportunity for me to berate myself for not following through on a project or for being lazy or any other helping of self-guilt I could conjure. I’m changing my outlook though. Instead, I’ve figured out what’s happened to this novel.
So why not this novel? I’ve outgrown it.
While that may sound bad, it’s actually good because the novel has achieved its purpose even in its unfinished state.
The book I’ve been working on is very simple. A frugal man buys a home that is haunted, and through various circumstances he cannot leave. On top of that, he finds himself involved in a budding relationship that further drives him to find a way to make the house livable.
The story itself is fine. It’s solid and stands on its own. It works as a novel and has parts that legitimately give me chills. When I started this project, I gave myself guardrails to help me along the way. I’ve never written a book before. Previously, all I had finished were a few short stories and a novella (the novella sits as it does not meet my personal expectations for self-publishing). Going into this, I knew I didn’t know what I was doing, so I wanted the process to be as clean as possible in order to focus on the fundamentals—move the plot, develop the characters, build tension, create hooks and appropriate pacing, etc.
In exchange, I chose a story and setting that was as straightforward as possible. There are only five characters. The setting is current day in an average town. There are only a few locations where events unfold. The language is vanilla. The whole thing is simple, basic.
In essence, I gave myself training wheels. And for twenty-three chapters, over sixty thousand words, those training wheels paid off. Without having to worry about a complex story in an exotic setting that uses a variety of language and character desires, I’ve been able to focus on the fundamentals I was concerned about. I’ve been able to recognize my weaknesses when it comes to developing a novel, as well as my strengths.
Now it’s time for the training wheels to come off. I’m ready to try balancing on my own. That also means stopping the novel.
I know that goes against one of the biggest rules in writing; finish what you write. A few weeks ago, I was holding that standard with an iron fist. But I’m shifting my approach toward writing. I’m removing the habits and ideas that don’t work for me. One of those ideas is that I must publish/post everything. That idea, while with its own merits, has created a situation where I no longer write for play, for myself. I take all writing seriously, too seriously at times, and that’s a problem. No more.
The second idea is that everything must be finished. While I still very much agree that you should finish what you write, I no longer feel that’s a blanket statement. All writing is good writing in the simple terms of it advances someone in their craft. Whether you’re cranking out two lines or two pages, you’re writing, and that writing will accumulate toward an ultimate style and ability that you can call your own. If someone wishes to improve their physical habits, do you yell at them for jogging one block instead of one mile? Of course not. Progress is progress. It all counts.
But why not finish? If I’ve come this far, why not grind the rest out?
I don’t enjoy it. These training wheels I created to prop myself up are now the same elements holding me back. Mostly, a lot of it stems from the language and setting I’ve chosen. Since the dialogue is common and the setting normal, I find myself writing with a restriction in my voice. I feel rigid when I write this story, awkward. I can’t jump off the page and write in fun and challenging ways as it won’t make sense in the story. Plainness is the setting. To deviate from that is to deviate from the core of the book itself. Anything beyond this basic framework I’ve created will feel out of place.
So I’m moving on. To what, we’ll see. I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there that’ll say I’m making a mistake, that I should finish and then move on. Maybe they’re right.
If they are, they’re right for them.
The most important part of this process for me is figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Everyone has their own way, and I feel that in challenging some of my own views—views that were adopted from reading the opinions of others—I’m learning what works for me. Being so early in my writing, that’s far more important than one measly novel being self-published. I need to create a foundation that will last through decades, not a few more months.
And why Ramble on about this for so long? After all, practically no one reads any of this (and to those handful of people subscribed, I sincerely thank you). I don’t know. I’ve written and deleted this last paragraph about seven times now. Maybe to share. Maybe to vent. Maybe to romanticize over the idea that my decision could relate to someone else’s. It’s normal to struggle. It’s okay to change directions when finding your way. I think it’s important for people to hear that. So often in our culture we’re only shown the results of one’s work and never the efforts that created it. So often we’re told to keep going, keep going. Never stop. Realize your dreams! (and various other catchphrases)
I guess this is all to say that it’s okay to pause now and then to make sure you’re on the right path to begin with.