The Eight Stages of Failing to Write My Novel

I’ve been through this routine several times. Enough to know that I’m stuck and frustrated. Perhaps you can benefit by seeing the process of one failed writer:

  1. I get a crazy idea for a character and scene.
  2. I build out said crazy idea, writing a draft of the scene.
  3. I polish and rub the draft until it starts to creep out onto the next page and the next page.
  4. I set the draft aside and think about what the hell I am writing because the creeping process is lame and feels very counterproductive.
  5. At this point, I might be doing research on the side. The research will invariably lead me down different paths and away from the story.
  6. It is highly likely that I will get upset with myself for wandering off-topic. When this happens, I do two things:

    a. I get back to writing that strange, creeping draft.

    b. I get frustrated by the lack of progress and the haunted feeling that the new idea is actually better than the old one.

  7. I am now working on two projects simultaneously.
  8. Not long after this, I give up on both projects, exhausted by the effort of maintaining two distinct storylines, plus the research, plus the reading of similar material, plus the insanity of living my real life (work, home, breathing, etc).

What bothers me about this habit (aside from being horribly depressing and not finishing any work) is that I know I am not alone. I know that this is a problem for a lot of writers. I suspect that there are plenty of journals out there in which this phrase appears:

“Am I making any progress here?”

Believe it or not, the answer is yes.

Lists and Lists

When I am really frustrated, I tend to make lists of the story ideas I’ve wrestled with. There are always several versions of this list floating about as one pass can hardly be authoritative. Ideas like slipping through the cracks. Ideas, ideas, dribbling down the drain…

Notes and Notes

Making those lists usually tricks my brain into latching onto the one story that is truly nibbling at the core. Here begins the work that ranges far beyond the twirling of pencils, a slam of 10-20K words or maybe more. Sometimes much more, though the result is mostly notes and notes.

So, is my problem lack of focus or is it something else? I can certainly focus long enough to get a boatload of text down… pick a seasoning for your plot and I can whip up the recipe while you wait.

Looking back over my Thousands of words, I feel like Thomas Wolfe who (as legend has it) would go to his editor with a manuscript in a wheelbarrow with tears streaming down his face and no clue what step to take next.

The Lure of Planning!

Finding a structure is yet another one of my distraction pitfalls.

I run out and get a copy of book X or Y and then study it just long enough to think I know what the hell I am doing and then I wander off the page and into a real mess of implementing a half-realized framework. Most of the “big-huge-book-reviews” on this site are built upon this premise.

Perhaps a better plan would be to focus on one story at a time. I know, gasps all around, but I wonder if it’s not the writing of the story that is getting me into trouble. By that I mean that I tend to get frustrated by writing hundreds of pages of notes and not actually building out the story.

Nothing to do but do it

Harnessing creative talent is never easy.
Don’t get distracted.
Don’t get frustrated.
Don’t quit.

I’ve heard all that before too.

At the end of the day, it’s about getting back in front of the keyboard and hitting it once more. This article isn’t perfect by any means, but it is far better than it was when I first wrote it in my journal a few months ago. I just kept coming back to the idea and playing with the phrases and order of ideas until something began to take shape.

Art is about shaping the raw materials and then reshaping, a process of refinement and distillation to reach the purest form (or at least something readable in my case).

Keep at it!

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