Stick a Fork in it.

For the past few years, I’ve been working on a novel, which has also formed the basis of my MFA thesis. I sent in the final draft. Now I’m going to throw it away because it sucks.

This is the part where well-meaning people ask if I’m sure I’m not being too hard on myself, and after all that work surely I can salvage something and maybe I just need a break? reassure, reassure, reassure.

Let me address this.

I’m probably being a little hard on myself, since no writer has good perspective on anything they’ve just written. But I’m not being too hard myself. Parts of it are good. Parts, I like. Parts could be substantially improved with contemplative time and some effort. But major parts are just not working.

Could it be salvaged into a workable novel? Technically yes. If I were doing a manuscript evaluation of my own novel, I’d point out these parts and encourage the writer to dig deep and work it out, just as my own thesis advisor did for me. But when I actually sit down and try to write and revise these bits, I find myself fighting with the characters. I’m pushing them in directions they don’t want to go. Then we end up in a big fight with the end result being them kind of vaguely pretending to do what they need to do and me being to tired to say anything but “Fine, be that way, I don’t care anymore.”

This is the fundamental problem. I don’t care anymore.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that as much as I study form and rules and structure, everything good that I write comes deep from my intuition. In this novel, I started with a situation that wasn’t going anywhere, and imposed a direction on it, one which sounded really good in theory and then spent five drafts trying to make it work in practice.

I can see now I should have just started with the idea that wasn’t going anywhere and explored it. The parts that work best were the parts that I had no clue about when I started writing them.

Do I just need time? I don’t think so. After I realized that this wasn’t working, I pulled out an old short story, tinkered with it, got some feedback from my writing group and tinkered some more. That’s how I remembered what it’s like to work on something you love. Every time I come back to that story, I remember┬áthat I love it. Putting that story out into the world, with my name on it, feels pretty good.

I’m retiring the novel because I don’t love it. The relationship is over, and we’re not going to marriage counselling. There’s a tendency to think of giving up on a project as having been defeated by them, but frankly, I think I’m going to enjoy not beating my head against the wall anymore.

In the meantime, I’ve learned from a lot from this project, about how to write a novel, and also who I am as a writer.

I have some vague niggles of ideas about how I could still do something with this, but not enough of a burning niggle to try.

In any case, I’m done. I’m glad. I spent a lot of the time writing this wishing I was writing something else, and putting this away frees me up to do that.

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Give it a Rest.

Writers write. They write every day. There is no writer’s block, there is only resistance so write, write, write, the cure to not writing is writing, even if you don’t feel like writing, just write. WRITE!

Bullshit.

(There is a certain irony in that this blog post comes after I have spent many months not writing, but such is life.)

In all the advice about writing, one of those most common is to write every day. Write if you don’t feel like it. Write a set number of words, for a set number of minutes, at a set time and place every day. Because to be a writer, you have to write.

It’s good advice because I still haven’t found a writer who isn’t a master procrastinator. I mean, why write when there is Netflix? Have you seen how much good stuff there is on Netflix? They say this is a golden age in television, you know.

(Sometimes I can convince myself that my Netflixing is really studying structure in both episodic and long-form, but really it’s because I like TV.)

But the big problem with this advice is that you are not an automaton. You aren’t a machine churning out words. You can’t just put butt in chair and expect words, words, words, magic, magic, magic.

If you are sitting in your writing place with a feeling of dread, if it feels like pulling teeth, if you are beating yourself up for not putting words on the page but then have to force every word of you so that you are still beating yourself up WHILE putting words on the page… you need to stop writing for a while. Make it a vacation, one with a defined beginning and end. Important to define the time so that you can release any guilt over not writing. This isn’t not writing because you are procrastinating; this is deliberately not writing.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve had guilt-free non-writing time, make it a long vacation. It’s not a vacation if you spend the whole time beating yourself up for being on vacation.

Now, go have fun. Spend time with friends. Drink something ridiculously fancy. Check out that art gallery exhibit you’ve been meaning to see. Organize your closets for the sheer satisfaction of having neatly organized closets and post pictures of them on Facebook for admiration.

You cannot expect yourself to write without end without rest. Rest. Enjoy your life.

You may love it so much that you decide that not writing is better than writing and that is fine. It’s no reason to worry that maybe you aren’t a writer. You are still a writer. Doctors are still doctors even when they are lying on a beach beside a margarita. Actors are still actors when they are home doing the laundry. Monet puttered in his garden and was still Monet. You are just taking a rest.

At the end of your rest, open the notebook again. Fire up your laptop and read the last thing you wrote. Write that first tentative sentence, those toddling steps, so uncertain and unsure.

Let it all come back. It will come back. Promise.