Monday, April 5, 2010

Running to stand still

I hate not finishing things. It feels like failure. Like if I had just tried one more time, found a different way of looking at things, just worked a little bit harder, I would have found the magic and succeeded. Instead, I took the easy way out, and quit.

I've been working on a novel for a while now. The working title was The Widening Gyre. I loved the world I was writing in,  and I had good, interesting characters. Except, when I got about a third of the way through, I started writing  in circles - good scenes that had only the most tenuous connection to the story I was telling, digressions that moved ever farther away from the main line of story. So I stopped writing. Looked back over everything. Chopped things out, tightened characters put the plot in. And started moving forward again.

Then, a little bit ago, I started having the same problems again. My word count started slowed to a trickle of only a couple hundred words on a good day. For a while, I ignored that - I had just put my house on the market,  my fall book orders were due, there was some family drama - there were enough legitimate reasons why writing was more difficult than I would have wanted it to be for me to not ask why I wasn't making progress on the story. 

Sitting down this weekend to transcribe the words from the notebook into the computer, I realized there was more to the problem than I had let myself see. It wasn't just that I was writing slowly, it was that what I was writing was flat. Technically competent but nothing more. The problem was, I didn't really care any more. Oh, sure, I cared about the act of writing, the idea that I had started something and I ought to finish it. There were some good bits. But I didn't really care about the story itself. I no longer knew what my characters wanted, and I just wasn't interested enough to find out.

If it had been a short story, I probably would have finished it. It's good to finish things, better to finish them and see why they failed, instead of just quitting. But I was just a little over a third of the way through a novel that would have been between 90-100K if I had kept going. That's a lot of time to waste, to spend banging my head against a wall. So I stopped.

I'm not proud of doing that. But if I don't care about the story that I'm telling, no one else will either. And I didn't burn the notebook, or delete the file. Because there are good bits in there. Because it is an interesting world. Because one day I may see the way into the story that is supposed to be told about those people and that place.

And then I sat down, and thought about the story I do want to tell right now. I opened up a notebook, scribbled down a working title, and wrote the opening.

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