Friday, April 23, 2010

Stalled Projects

I'm a little flustered. I've got a lot of ideas streaming in for new projects, but my current projects sit untouched. I think about getting to it, I stare at my monitor for a while, and then I get up and walk away. WHY!? I have a feeling that the primary reason is self doubt. More than that, perhaps I just doubt the validity of the stories I've gotten myself into. I over-analyze everything. I pick apart the tiny intricacies of conversations, replay body language, and puzzle over the complete meaning of the 'scenes' of my life. Is it really any surprise that I would do it over the scenes of my stories?

I have a subscription to The Writer magazine and a few of the issues I have kicking around include pieces on how to reclaim your momentum and how to turn wayward stories around. Some even have the audacity to suggest that I can just give up and move on to another, more interesting story. Pish posh, I say! What a bunch of fuddleycrack. Maybe you can do that later in the game, once you've already proven yourself, but to do so now would be nothing short of creating a nasty habit -- at least in my case.

I guess it boils down to the point that I should know better. Since I can identify what I find to be wrong with my stories, I should be able to formulate a way to fix them or at least identify a point to go back to in order to take the better path. I guess it isn't always that easy, perhaps it was just a bit of wishful thinking. Maybe if I told myself that it would be easy it wouldn't end up being as hard as I'm making it out to be? Blah, sounds like a self-help book. That's not exactly what I'm trying to write here...

So how about you guys? How do you handle stalled projects, be them writing or otherwise?


Jim Murdoch said...

I do something else. But I keep whatever I’ve been struggling with on the backburner. About a third way through my third novel I hit a brick wall and literally did no work on it for two years. During that time I wrote about forty short stories and, of course, a steady drip of poetry. After that I sat down and finished the book with very little difficulty.

Now I’m onto my fifth novel and much the same has happened. I’ve written about 23,000 words and, although I thought I knew where I wanted to go in the second half of the book, I’ve been unhappy with everything I’ve written. Plus I’ve been ill which hasn’t helped. So for the last three years it’s been nothing but blogs and poetry.

Last night I sat down and wrote the first two paragraphs of what I hope will be a new direction for the book. It’ll mean a rewrite of the first half, to incorporate the new perspective (I’d already rewritten the whole thing changing it from third to first person) and – hopefully – once I get to the end of that it will dovetail neatly into the second half.

I’m quite lucky in that I’ve always had the poetry. Only once in my life did that dry up – for a whole three years I wrote nothing at all – but other than that finishing a poem every couple of weeks gives you a good feeling about your writing. Novels, at least with me, take so damn long. It’s easy to get disillusioned and want to chuck in the towel.

Si said...

Write them as far as they'll go. Put them in a drawer and let them gestate into something else. If you don't do it, they sit and fester. Writing doesn't always move you to the end of the road in a straight line. (Or, like Jim, you might be able pick them up again later!)

I'm into a novel now where I'm reaping the benefits from developing a character in an idea I had that was never going to go anywhere, but now has a chance to fly somewhere else.

Mystercyrian said...

I often procrastinate on finishing projects I've started, though I have different problems/reasons that cause it. I would get halfway through a story and just get bored with it like I would get bored with a book that I am reading.
One of my oldest problems is that if I don't outline stories first, I will meander endlessly without getting to the end, much less the middle.

My current WIP is being stalled by two completely different problems: 1) it's a very long WIP, so it's taking forever to write anyway, and 2) I'm in school right now, and I don't have time to sit down and read what I had written before so that I can start writing again. On that same WIP, though, I've tried to write drafts of it several times throughout my short life, but I have alway stopped and restarted from the beginning ...Like *that* counts as progress. At one point in time, on my current draft, I started to get bored with a necessary section, and I asked myself, "Why am I writing this novel? What is my motivation to continue?" My conclusion -or at least, the one that keeps me from deleting the draft entirely- is that I am not even writing it for myself anymore. I am writing it for the characters. I'm writing it to tell their story, since it seems (for me at least) like everything I write is already written... already imagined... and all I am doing is transcribing it.
Ths WIP I'm talking about is actually going on 700 single-spaced pages so far. Yeah, it's a monster. I've been working on it since two Decembers ago. Sometimes I wonder how easy it would be if I were to try to write a 100-page, 80,000-word ditty. A month, probably, or even less if I had the time and if I outlined it first. I have just promised myself that I won't even start anything else until I'm finished with my current WIP.

Unknown said...

@Jim - Your words are always inspiring, not only to myself but for the other visitors here. You have a lot of experiences that have shaped you not only into quite the crafty writer, but also a formidable mentor.
I know that you have had some struggles with your health from following your blog, but even those rough times have helped to shape your perspective and it shows in your writing with all the unique subtleties that I enjoy.
I've actually started reading your first book and the second is sitting on my nightstand.
**For anyone who has been thinking about ordering Jim's book, please do yourself a favor and just do it already! If you've never heard of the infamous Jim Murdoch, click his name or his picture for a link back to his blog, he's got some fabulous write ups and essays that go far beyond the hitherto book review.**

@Si You've got a good point. I suppose that I shouldn't be so hard up about it, but once you seem to start collecting a mass of unfinished work the panic light starts flashing.
Congratulations on your current project. It's always nice to see something finally come together, I'm glad you were able to salvage a previous piece.

@Mystercyrian I admire your tenacity. I think what you've said here is part of my problem. I feel like I owe my characters something and it just isn't coming out the right way. I think about what I've written and it seems so cliche and overused. It feels like I'm doing them a disservice.

The real problem might be that I'm trying to write Fantasy because that's what seems to be the logical choice. Then comes the conflict that I am not satisfied with most Fantasy pieces that I read. Perhaps it's a case of garbage in, garbage out? I'm making a lot of mistakes that I see in the books that bother me. I see it happening but it's almost as if I am powerless to stop it.

It could be that progress only lies within doing it poorly under the guise of a first draft and then hacking out all of the bad pieces. I know that this is the most logical thing, but I dislike the idea of "wasting" all that time writing garbage. Yet, I realize that it isn't wasted time if you learn more about your characters and their environment and then use that knowledge to build a better story.

See my conundrum? Blessed be the simple man, for he has not the answers to his questions. Cursed is the man who knows what ails him, for though he holds the answers, he is ever committed to his folly.

Si said...

"Blessed be the simple man, for he has not the answers to his questions. Cursed is the man who knows what ails him, for though he holds the answers, he is ever committed to his folly"

With those words, Brady - you've brought out a whole new bag of self doubt!

(Just kidding!) It's interesting about what you say about finding most of your genre unsatisfying. I'm into a thriller at the moment. It's fortunate the genre got inhabited by John Le Carre, for example - because the writing in a lot of successful stuff is just dreadful.

After all, just because someone's been there before doesn't mean there isn't still fertile ground..!

Elisabeth said...

I'm new to your blog and intrigued by it's title.

Autobiographer that I am, I rarely run out of material, though this morning I found myself wondering about writing more to a topic. It has its merits, more journalism a la Joan Didion and Janet Malcolm.

Given you're a fiction writer by the sound of things, these authors may not appeal.

I have heard it said that the most important ingredient for any writer is 'bum glue', the stuff that sticks you to your chair.

Have you hear Elizabeth Gilbert's recent TED talk on creativity? she too recommends that you 'show up for work' as one of the best things you can do. The rest is somewhere beyond your conscious control.

I call the thing you most need beyond talent, practice and skill, perseverance.

Good luck with it all. I look forward to visiting again.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just found your blog and can I just say straight off the bat, it’s really rather awesome.
I generally find that when I stall on my writing it’s because I’ve written the character wrong. It’s annoying because often I don’t realize why it’s wrong, it’s just this general feeling that I’ve misinterpreted that character. I know that sounds a tad weird, since they are my creations but I guess in my head they become real so writing them incorrect feels wrong. When this happens I usually turn to creating a short story, to clear my head, and when I return I normally can see what’s odd about the character. The other reason I get hit with that vexing mind blockade is because I end up with too many ideas attempting to assert themselves in one scene. I prefer that to the character issues because then all I have to do is take a moment, out line what ideas I want and decide how I can fit the other’s in later on in the story.

Unknown said...

@Elisabeth - Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment.

I agree with you that 'bum glue' may be a good investment toward getting more writing done, but as of late I've had a bit more of a problem with the inner critic. Be that as it may, I did iron out a major road block to my progress for one of the short stories I had sitting on a back burner. With that finally out of the way, I was able to forge forward and now the end is in sight! So, I suppose it's safe to say that my biggest problem seems to be confidence. The battles within always seem to have the highest casualty rates.

@SJ - Thank you for the compliments. I do hope you enjoy your visits to HuntingTheMuse and decide to make it a regular stopping point on your journeys.

You may have something there, though I'm not sure that I've written my main character wrong, per se. The more I wrote, the less original it felt, which was odd since I can't really attribute it to anything I've encountered directly. So perhaps the real issue is that I got too close to my project, thought about it so much that it became as familiar as something else I'd read or experienced. In that regard, taking time to finish the two short stories that I abandoned might be just what I need to improve my confidence and get a second wind for my stalled novel.

Stephanie Sarwal said...

I had the same problem last week and wrote about it, and thought it might make a good blog post -- even though I am not a blogger, yet! Any words of wisdom for a new writer/mom who would like to start blogging about the joys and travails of being new to the craft?

Jillian Sullivan said...

Whenever I get stuck, whenever I want to go deeper, whenever I want to go beyond what I think I know, I write without stopping. Timing it is best – creating a small chunk of time that feels achievable no matter how hard the task is appearing. This goes for all writing – letters, poems, assignments (I’m still doing those), character studies, dialogue…whatever is required. I say to myself just write for ten minutes, it doesn’t matter what comes out, it’s only ten minutes of my life. And in that ten minutes I am constantly surprised at what “pours forth” when given the chance.

Try reading Fishing from the Boat Ramp - "A series of lectures on how to be a writer, hidden in a story rich with beautiful metaphors, and applicable to anyone who desires a creative life"

Jillian Sullivan

Jessica Meats said...

I'm glad it's not just me!

I get so many new and exciting ideas that old ones frequently stall.

As Si says, put them to one side if they're really not going anywhere. I do sometimes return to ideas that have been sitting unwritten for ages. I've recently returned to a fantasy series I first dreamt up when I was 16!!!