If the definition of finishing a novel is that you’ve written a work of fiction of a certain length, and for even one moment you have decided it was done, I have written at least six. (Probably more that I have mercifully forgotten about. For that matter, sometimes I wish I had forgotten about some of these six too.) One was my master’s thesis, two were written for the 3-Day Novel contest (and later revised), two were written for NaNoWriMo (and I’m revising one of them now), and one of them was workshopped with brilliant and endlessly patient writing group colleagues* over many many hours and glasses of wine.
None of them have been published. But I haven’t really tried, either.
That’s because unfortunately so far every single one has met the same fate. At some point — usually while I’m revising — I’ve fallen out of love with them. I’ve become worn out, disenchanted with the characters, the plot, the setting, the tone, the whole shebang. Like any other failed relationship, the very things that I once thought were wonderful become the very things I can’t bear. And once that happens, I can’t find much that’s worth saving, and then, well, it’s just a matter of time before it’s all over.
Usually by then I’m really excited about starting a new book anyhow.
I know, I know. This is normal. It’s just part of the process. Everyone has doubts. The only difference between finishing and not finishing is pushing through. Bum in chair. Perseverance. Never give up. There are loads of inspirational quotes about this stuff; you can see a few here.
But here’s the question that’s hard to shake: What if it really isn’t any good? One of the (many) dangers of reading about writing is the chance of coming across smart, helpful advice about how to know if your idea just isn’t worth the effort (books like this one, and articles like this one), at just the moment you feel most like giving up. Then there’s the Total Perspective Vortex kind of despair that can come over librarian-writers when they glance around the book stacks (or the tottering piles of publishing catalogues) where they work and start to think about just how many books are published every year.
There are so many reasons to give up, and they are so rational.
A couple of weeks ago I decided I needed help to keep going with my current project. I asked a writer I know** if he could give me a deadline for overhauling my outline. He agreed, and we set a date. Then we shook hands on it. So now I have to keep going, right?
Fortunately there are always small things that can console us at times like this. (Check out this CBC Radio documentary on Cheezies, another thing to love about Canada.)
*Including Christy Goerzen, one of my favourite people and also a brilliant writer. (Two of her books have been published by the fine folks at Orca.)
**My generous writer friend is the talented David Jones, author of several books including the YA novels Baboon and Meltdown, and North American Wildlife. (At least two of them are available in Canada, too.)
3 thoughts on “On frustration and giving up (or not) — the writing edition”
Hey Janis, thanks for the blog entry on giving up. It’s a crucial issue for every writer. I particularly enjoyed the link to the i09 website (never heard of it until now) and the article on how to tell if the first draft of your novel is worth pursuing.
I didn’t actually agree with everything that Charlie Jane Anders said, but I LOVE looking at all those old science fiction magazine covers!
I love those science fiction magazine covers too!
Loved this entry. I SO know how this feels – the falling out of love with the MS part. You are so invested in the characters, the plot, the blood…and then there’s the blood, sweat and tears you produced while you created the story. When you’re stug in the literary quagmire of revision, it’s so hard to remember the bloom of new love you felt when you first conjured the idea for your novel. The butterflies! The obsessive thoughts! The “can’t wait to get back to my manuscript” feeling that trumped everything else. I don’t know what the answer is. WHen it becomes work, and you can’t remember what that initial buzz felt like, I think it’s really, like you said…BUM. IN. CHAIR. There’s no quick fix or magic formula. You just gotta git ‘er done and do it.
Having read one of your manuscripts right through (I just came across it again the other day) I can honestly tell you, that even if you aren’t “in love” with it anymore, other people will be. It’s so f*cking good, Janis! Come on now, get yourself some quality chocolate and put your bum in your chair.