Recently, I wrote a post on the roller coaster ride of novel writing — about the highs from the little successes and the lows of constant uncertainty.
I battled my self doubts about the novel I’m trying to write (a story about a woman named Millie) by focusing on better character development, reassessing plot points, and scratching out a new outline for chapter one. Still, each writing session ended with a persistent twist in my gut, an uncomfortable feeling that suggested, No. This is not the story you should be writing. Not today.
I ignored my gut, thinking “today” meant not this particular 24 hour period. Really, I was afraid I’d mark myself as a quitter if I put this manuscript down.
All I have to do is finish the draft, I told myself. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.
In her interview last week, Beth Hoffman talked about writer’s alchemy, the miracle that happens when we sit down to write a story and a character’s words just come to us. When you read her novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, that passionate connection with her characters shines through. I know about writer’s alcehmy; I have experienced it before. But, not while writing Millie’s story.
I thought more seriously about the possibility of putting my manuscript to rest for a while, but I hesitated to tell anyone about it. Then, on Friday, I spilled the beans over a cup of coffee with a good friend.
We talked about my novel — what’s happening and what’s not happening. I said I didn’t know if I wanted to quit because the process of writing it was too hard or the story just wasn’t the right one for me. The story I really want to write has been sitting in a three-ring binder, next to my bed, for the last year or so. It’s the one I fall in love with each time I flip through the pages of that first draft, the story where my passion truly lies.
She said I should go where the energy is.
So, I made my decision — based on that conversation and a few pieces of supporting evidence that reminded me I’m not alone or crazy for walking away.
My first piece came from Linda Cassidy Lewis’s recent post about the strong pull we feel from a story that’s insists on being written by us.
The second came from a book edited by Daniel Alarćon, called The Secret Miracle: the Novelist’s Handbook. In his book, several authors answer questions about the process of writing a novel.
On page 257, Alarćon asks, What’s the longest period of time you’ve let an unfinished manuscript rest?
Aleksandar Hemon (author of The Lazarus Project) responds:
“Leaving the manuscript alone is part of the process. I call that ‘sagging.’ If I drop it for a while, it does not worry me. Something is still happening. I think that it is very dangerous to organize your writing in terms of measurable production. One of the joys of writing is that it ain’t a factory. You don’t really have to do it if you don’t feel like it.”
Finishing a draft – just to finish it – is “writing in terms of measureable production.”
I don’t regret the amount of time I spent in rewrites thus far. In fact, the difficulties I faced in the last several months gave me a better understanding about the process. But, I believe staying with that story right now would derail my enthusiasm to write.
So, yesterday, I pulled together my printed draft, my notes, my workshop critiques, and placed them gingerly next to my bed — a spot that seems conducive for incubation.
Rest easy, Millie. I’ll be back.
Alarćon, Daniel. The Secret Miracle: the Novelist’s Handbook. New York, New York: Henry Hold and Company, LLC, 2010. Print.