A Writing Virtue Learned Through His Absymal Sublimity, Undersecretary Screwtape

"Is description hard for you?"
I think at the time I was asked that, I said "no," because in general it isn't as if I sit hunched over my desk, rubbing my temples while I stare at the screen, wracking my brains for the right description.  In general, description comes naturally to me.  But the truth of the matter is, I've never analyzed what aspects of writing are hard for me and which are easy - plot arcs, character development, world-building, narration, description, dialogue, etc.  Usually, I am far too busy being concerned with becoming better at everything, and doing justice to the novel under my knife. 
it's all hard, after a fashion
I just finished reading a great little post from Go Teen Writers by Shannon Dittemore on sticking with your novel when the fire of your first love has died.  Most of us are plagued with numerous spin-offs and completely-other story ideas, which threaten to lure us away from our project when our project becomes work instead of fun.  I'm sure a lot of us are guilty of veering off and doing just that, leaving our original project languishing in the sad, uninteresting middle, cobbled together by vague promises that you will return.  But you know that as soon as you hit the rough patch of your new project, you'll be whisked off onto another story, leaving yet another story to die.  Have you done it before?  It doesn't feel very good to think about it, does it?
how do you stick with it?
Honestly, Nike is right: you have to just do it.  But that's not very helpful to simply say.  If you have a long history of starting-and-ditching stories, how do you break the habit? 

Perversely, I've really never had trouble finishing a story.  I am generally lazy and impatient, but when it comes to my writing, I can think of only two stories (still promising) which I had to set aside because something else needed my attention more.  This does not mean I don't get wild ideas for more stories while I'm in the middle of a project: my entire Plenilunar series is a testament to that!  But as far back as I can remember, all of my stories, all massive beasts, were started, worked through, and finished.  I've never developed the bad habit of running off after a new story in the middle of a current project.  So who am I to offer advice?
you don't plunge into the river to save a drowning man
I do know what it's like to lose that first flame and to feel like you've lost your way in the story.  Believe me, I feel like I've been wandering blindly through Talldogs in a passionless malaise.  How much more fun would it be to, say, tackle the character snarls of Maresgate or plunge head-long into the cataclysm of Cruxgang, and leave Talldogs until I "got more ideas" for its plot?  Well, it might be fun, but somehow I doubt it, because I'm not fooled into believing that the cycle can be broken by continuing to follow it.  Talldogs hasn't always been fun to write, so I had to do the only thing I could do, and Shannon Dittemore is absolutely right: you have to persevere.  There isn't a magic spell you can cast on yourself or your novel, there isn't a writing camp or a playlist to get you inspired.  You have to keep moving forward, believing that you will come through and that you'll have done the right thing, if not the easy thing.  Do you remember that quote by Screwtape?
"Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
In a way this applies to Talldogs, and your novel, as well.  Even though long months felt like I was dragging the corpse of a once flourishing plot through a sorry Word document, I believed that in the end I would rekindle that blaze of life.  I couldn't see it, I couldn't feel it, I often did not know where I was going.  But I kept going.  And you know what?
the fire rekindled
I'm so glad I did not give up, and I think you will be too.

7 ripostes:

  1. Oh, Jenny, this post was a ministry today! An encouraging exhortation to all us writers to keep on going--that the first love in writing, as well as in Christianity and relationships, can blaze up again. I'm a one-at-a-time project kind of girl that has seen that concept play out many times, especially as my novel is a long one. Hearing that affirmation was like a warm cup of cocoa. It reached down deep inside with cheer and grace. I'm going to bookmark this for a future reminder when needed.

    I'm so glad the fire rekindled for Talldogs for you. And let me say, I'm also encouraged to watch you write as a young wife and mother as well, because that's a position I'm hoping to be in someday. Watching you blaze the trail gives me courage. I will be praying for you as Baby Girl gets closer, and can't wait until she arrives!

    Many blessings,

  2. I don't have the problem of getting distracted by other projects, at all--if anything I feel rather a bad writer because my focus on PENDRAGON'S HEIR has been so narrow and intense for so long now! But I had to learn to push past the un-fun bits as well. It was my dear mother who taught me. I remember her forcing us with dire threats to do music practice even when we hated it, after a few years when all the passion had worn off. I came through that time and never looked back; it would be hard to imagine a life without it now. I think I realised pretty early that everything else in life was going to be just like that.

    Discipline really is the ultimate adventure.

  3. I know my sister doesn't usually have trouble with other potential projects cropping up when she's in the middle of a single work - she's very focused and dedicated. I know that bothers her sometimes, because she sees other people bubbling over with idea after idea when she has just the one, but unless you have discipline, you'll just be carried off by every wind and wave of inspiration. In this fast-paced, internet-charged realm of writers, in which so many see a new drawing or photograph on Pinterest and think, "That needs a story! I'll write it!", I'm glad to see people like Schuyler and my sister and yourself who actually stick with the story they have begun and bring it to fruition. That is a wonderful encouragement to us all.

  4. This comes at a very opportune moment for me. I've always been one of the kind who struggles to stick with one project while a dozen attractive new ideas whirl around my head...and I've been stuck in a rough passage with my novel rewrite this week. One of those spells where I feel that the writing is just so flat and dry and...well, awful. In the back of my head I know it won't look so bad to me after a little time has passed, but for the moment it's tough. Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. This is exactly what I needed today. I have so many projects languishing on my hard drive because I've been waiting to feel that spark again. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. I never really have trouble finishing a book, but I do get discouraged and side tracked by shinny ideas. I've found that I too just have to sit down and write, even when I don't want to.

  7. Elisabeth Grace Foley - I can be stuck in rough patches for a month. Not that that sounds wildly encouraging, but I want you to know that you're not the only one. Sometimes I do just have to let the manuscript simmer for a spell - which is something I failed to point out in the post. I do sometimes stop writing on a manuscript because I can't see my way ahead, but I don't abandon it: I just let it sit for a few days until my creativity builds the next stage. Pushing doesn't always look like desperately putting words on a page just because you have to. Pushing is just not giving up.

    I like to blame the apparent dryness and flatness of my writing on hormones. Until I get around to editing, it makes me feel better. XD

    Hanna - It's something we all need to remember! It isn't always fun, but I have always discovered it to be rewarding in the end.

    Jack -Well, there's another thing I forgot to mention. I do take the time to jot down other ideas as they come to me, even though I remain faithful to my current work in progress. I don't smother myself when other ideas come: I get them out. That small amount of freedom removes a sense of guilt and enables my creativity to expand.