Putting a Story to Rest for a While

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.
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10 responses to “Putting a Story to Rest for a While

  1. I’m proud of you. I know how hard you have worked recently, it must have been a hard decision for you. You are extremely talented my friend. Regardless of which piece you decide to work on… I’ll be reading.

  2. Good for you, Christi. I love the advice to go with the energy. Yes. Follow the energy – writing must have energy or we get lost.

    Yay!

  3. I wish you renewed excitement for the novel you REALLY want to write.

    After my current workshop, I’m going to go back to work on the one that makes my heart sing too.

  4. lisagailgreen

    I completely agree! Work on what excites you. Letting things sit can only help, it certainly can’t hurt anything.

  5. I love this advise, “Work on the one that makes your heart sing.”

    I’ve been told the one I’m working on now is my strongest yet. I have days of simply not wanting to touch it, and then there are eureka days. I haven’t come to the place yet where I’m ready to go back to another book and revise.

    However if I do, I’ll remember these words. I think if our heart isn’t in the story, it shows. (Hugs)Indigo

  6. Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

    Sarah (Ms. celiacinthecity) – I always appreciate your support, my sweet friend.

    Dot – “writing must have energy or we get lost”…great point. Like Indigo says, if the author’s heart isn’t in it, the reader can tell.

    Linda – can’t wait to hear about your progress in going back 🙂

    And, lisagailgreen, thanks for visiting and for taking the time to leave a comment!

  7. That’s a very tough decision and I admire you for making it. I’m glad to hear you’re following the lead of your energy!

  8. I’ve always found that following the prompts of my heart steers me in the right direction…so glad you’re following yours!

  9. Your post is very near and dear to my heart. I spent three years on my book but wasn’t making any huge progress. I know in my heart it isn’t ready for querying, so I finally set it aside and started writing short stories instead. Now I know that’s where my energy is right now. It just feels right.

  10. Cathryn & Beth,
    Thank you for your encouragement (as always). I’m feeling great about my decision now.

    And, Tricia,
    That “right” feeling is a good one. And, who knows…the pieces you need to get your novel moving again will unfold out of your short stories!

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