Writing sucks. It doesn’t suck all the time, of course, or I wouldn’t want to do it as my livelihood, but the fact is, sometimes writing is not clouds raining Skittles over Princess Buttface’s Beauteous Castle. Sometimes, it sucks more than your Hoover on its best day, and enough of those sucky days back-to-back, your project is in serious danger of going the way of the dodo. Your brain starts to associate it with toxicity, and as no one actually glugs Drain-O for fun, you tell yourself to avoid it because it’s bad for you. Writing this makes you unhappy and no one should be unhappy all the time. I’ll just walk away for a few days . . .
Aaaand you never return. Because you just don’t. It’s like promising yourself you’ll go back to school one day – it sometimes happens, but the odds are stacked against you.
Having “been there, done that, bought the tee shirt” with this particular phenomenon — and having lost projects to the associative mindset — I’m going to talk about how to get over it, past it, through it. The hardest part of a project isn’t having the initial idea or scribbling five or six chapters, it’s finishing it, and these roadblocks are anti-completion. As they are anti-completion, they must be EXTERMINATED.
Roadblock One: PLOT HOLE.
You’re going along your merry way in the story, giving your talking beaver magical butterfly wings and delighting in the knowledge that Slappy the tree frog is actually a prince in disguise when you realize OH NO! SLAPPY’S ACTUALLY A CIA OPERATIVE AND IF HE BECOMES A PRINCE HE CAN’T WRESTLE PRINCESS PEACH FROM GODZILLA! Plot hole. One you believe must be rectified before you continue your story. In the above example, the obvious answer is to introduce Hans the Professional Yodeler to save the day, but sometimes, in the midst of the PLOT HOLE disaster, we can’t see things so clearly.
Thing is, you actually don’t have to solve most plot holes right away. Unless this is an earthshaking point in the story — as in it will actually direct any and all interactions throughout the novel — you can put it aside and keep going. Books have a revision and rewrite period, and for most writers, it’s time consuming. You’re hunkered in for a few months after THE END. As you’re already committing to that (or should be) by writing the novel in the first place, allow yourself to cast burdens to the wind during drafting. If it means you’ll be able to get back to business, it’s okay to pull a Scarlet O’Hara and “think about it tomorrow.”
Roadblock Two: PERFECTION!
You think picking at the already completed words is helping the project in the long run, but no matter how many times you edit it, it’s never going to be perfect. Never. Why? Perfect in fiction is subjective. Seriously, what you see as perfect, some other assclown will rip apart in a review a year and a half later. Gleefully, even, because we love to squash our heroes. Also? What you deem perfect on a Tuesday? May very well suck on Thursday when you reread it because headspace plays a huge role in how we see ourselves, and by extension, our work.
You cannot progress if you obsess over the first parts you already wrote. And if you won’t stop tinkering with the chapters you already have, you are exhibiting obsessive behavior. Acknowledge this, and when you catch yourself doing it, stop. It’s that simple. Stop. Go write new stuff and leave the old stuff alone. If you really want to know if those first five or six chapters are any good, hand them over to someone else who will give you an honest opinion, but stop striving for perfection because it does not exist.
Roadblock Three: OTHER PEOPLE.
There are two ways to absolutely, one hundred percent ensure that you won’t finish a book. The first is by watching too much Real Housewives of Hooterville. The second is by comparing yourself to other people. It’s said so many times it’s cliche’ these days, but I swear by Sky Poobah, no two publication journeys are the same. You’ll see stories about writers who go out on submission for two weeks and get picked up by a house right away, but even then, the circumstances behind the scenes are different. Every case is as individual as the person who wrote the book.
So! Stop comparing yourself and your work to everyone else in the world, because when you actually go out there? You’re going to be your own special snowflake. You have your own voice. You have your own writing strengths. Where you thrive, other writers are weak. Where you are weak, other writers will thrive. It’s the nature of the beast, and you cannot determine your success or failure based on your peers because down that path lays madness. Worry about yourself. As a person who wrote a book that went on sub for fifteen months, rewrote it, and then got picked up at auction two weeks later? My path to publication was insane. Yours might be, too.
Roadblock Four: IDEA FAIRY IS A HO.
There she is, all shiny and sparkly. She sees your brain fixed on Project A and she comes by flaunting dat ass with Project B and whispering her sultry lies. Lies like, “You should ignore Project A and play with Project B just a little bit. Just a few chapters. C’mon, what could a poke and a tickle hurt?” IDEA FAIRY IS A PUSHER AND A LIAR AND A SLUT. NO. You might think you’re just going to go sample Project B, but when you get into it, you convince yourself it’s better than Project A. Next thing you know, you’re shacked up with Project B while Project A is at home with the fourteen chapters you abandoned wondering if she’ll get alimony.
Greener pasture syndrome is a real thing. The writer that has the resolve to dally and then get back to the matter at hand is a rare creature. Work under the premise that you are not such a creature. A tendency to want to wander off and do new things because a story is getting old or complicated is natural, but it’s also deadly. Recognize what you’re doing – that you’re pretending your new hotness is better than your old project, because NEWSFLASH! I bet you had another idea you cheated on when you started Project A. This is a perpetuating cycle of crap and a surefire way to never finish anything ever.
Roadblock Five: WRITING STUFF I DON’T LIKE.
This is the one I’m battling myself right now, actually. We all have things we like writing better than other things, whether that’s funny anecdotal stuff or dialogue or love scenes or monkeys flinging poo or whatever. But there are also things we don’t like writing. In my case, that’s combat. I hate/loathe/despise choreographing fight scenes because it’s complicated and very . . . I don’t know. Tedious. It annoys me. A lot. I’d rather write sex than a fight scene and that’s saying something. Anyway, point is, I have no less than five combat scenes in five chapters in the current WiP. Why? Because I hate myself, but also because I’m at the climax of the book and that means everyone’s being all ornery and shit. I’ve been slower writing these chapters because it’s flat-out less enjoyable for me, but I am trudging through. How? I’m writing stuff in between. I break up the monotony of POINTY THING GOES INTO FLESHY PART by interspersing these chapters with scenes I enjoy.
If you know your writerly Achilles heel up front, which chapters you dread doing versus not, try to space them out a little? I know writing out of order for some people triggers their OCD, but if writing a bunch of stuff you like, pausing to write 4,000 words you don’t, and then getting back to the fun stuff means you can finish the project? Kick the OCD in the teeth. Weep while you do it if you have to, but don’t effectively cockblock your own progression by setting yourself up to fail. Recognize your own preferences and then intersperse the writerly down swings between happy fun times so they feel more rewarding when you get to them.