We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming For a Flip-Out and a Resolution

Tabling a work-in-progress is never an easy thing to decide. Most writers’ advice I’ve heard advises that you should push through a tough hump, that you should keep going until the end, because only when you reach the end do you actually know what you have.

Well, I think there are exceptions to this ‘rule’. Stephen King talks about a couple different times when he about threw in the towel on a piece, most notably his wife pulling Carrie from the trash can and telling him he had something. So he toughed through it, finished, and voila! we now have one of our bestsellingest authors ever! But King also talks about struggling with The Stand. There’s one line in On Writing where he says that if he’d had something like 100 single-spaced lines instead of over 800, he would’ve quit.

I’ve been reciting these situations to myself as I, ahem, “shovel shit from a sitting position.” Push through, get to the end, find out what you have. And you know what? I already know what I have. It’s not a novel.

It’s a Super-Blown-Up short story.

There’s nothing to push through to. By adding words, I’m diminshing the story. I’m sooo bored with what I add. I called it ‘overwriting’ so that I would have more to cut. Well, I have a ton to cut, because it should be around 8,000 words, not 60,000.

Yesterday I turned to my husband and asked him what he really, really thought of the novel. I’d told him I was bored, that I was struggling with the characters and adding more complications (because it all felt incredibly forced–I can’t even begin to describe the sensation). One of his critiques has always been that the story is lacking magic (it was supposed to have a magical realism element to it). Then he clarified: he meant that both implicitly and explicitly.

Ouch. That one stung, I won’t lie. He went on to clarify further about how I could and should be using the magical elements that I’ve introduced that would fix all the problems, in his mind. But you already know when you’re not doing something correctly–and the reason I wasn’t using the magic ‘correctly’ is because it’s not supposed to be sustained at the level that it needs to be for a whole novel.

And you know what? All of that would mean very little, I would still push through, if it weren’t for something else that I’ve internalized just recently. As I was prepping for the mentors for the next couple months, a recurring theme popped in: write for yourself.

I’ve heard that before, and I’m sure you have too. But it’s soooooo important, I can’t even begin to tell you. With the publishing world in an uproar, spinning all topsy turvy, publication is no guarantee. You cannot please everyone, and you’ll never know whether you’ll please anyone–except yourself. This is a job where you’ll be alone with paper and pen and computer screen for long periods of time…why on earth would you allow yourself to work ad nauseum and be bored? If you’re bored, your reader will be too.

Struggling Writing Problems

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Ah, a nice summation of what I was feeling for most of this year. I wasn't writing for myself anymore. I was writing for the damn voices. The ones that sounded like all y'all, but were my interpretation of what you said.

    Writing for self (and self's own true voice)=good.

    Writing for other voices in head=bad.

    Acknowledging that you have other voices in your head=priceless? Or certifiable?

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