Thursday, May 26, 2011

Being Unfaithful

One of my friend writers online, who has been struggling with his novel for quite some time, tried something a little dangerous.

He tried working on something new. Several other writers had encouraged him to. "If your novel isn't cooperating, just move on," we told him. "Find another project that makes you want to write every day. Obviously this one isn't working for you right now, but you can always come back to it."

He tried to be tempted. He tried digging into another project, something with less baggage, less stress attached to it. It was then that the sweating started. His eyes shifted around the room to see if anyone noticed his infidelity. The words of his first novel came to him, whispering guilt, pain, and shame. How could he do this? How could he dump the novel he'd devoted his life to and start something else?

I admit that I still have similar misgivings. Instead of a lover (or spouse), though, the novel feels like a child. The first child is always the hardest, too. I don't want it to cry, or fall and hurt its knees, or feel lonely for even a second. I've revised my first novel about 25 times now, and it's still not quite ready (though it's getting awfully close!). But the first time I started working on something else--when I'd only revised the novel about 15 times--it felt like I was turning my back on my only child. Would she forgive me? Would she ever speak to me again?

What if she didn't? What if she was my only chance to express myself fully, and my creativity dried up completely? Karma. Wouldn't I deserve it, for being such a bad parent?

But part of my problem was that I had other children waiting on me. They were pulling on my apron before they were ever born, and I have still more gnawing at me now, wondering why I haven't started on them.

The truth is, my second child, though still only in revision #5 or so, helped me make my first child better. And my third helped me figure out POV in a way the other two hadn't. Each little child I created helped me return to the other ones with more patience, more depth, more perspective. They are better, more capable, more meaningful, and more interesting children because of their brothers and sisters.

I still feel wracked with guilt. Each hour I spend on one child is an hour away from the others (including the two children I bodily gave birth to). I have to drown out the voices, the little hands pulling at my skirt while I work, whining at me because I am not devoting that hour to them. And so I switch. I work on one until I am stuck, until I don't know what to do. Then I set it aside, putting it in front of cartoons while I spend some one-on-one time with another child.

I hope, when they are all grown and gone, they will not still resent the time I left them in a room alone and played with a sibling. I hope they all grow to be capable, meaningful well-adjusted novels (and plays).


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  2. Maybe, just maybe, I should edit my responses before posting:

    Not a problem I have, thank Heavens. I switch from book to book, often in the same afternoon. I write when I'm ready and what I'm ready for. When I had eight or so nascent books in various stages of progress, I wandered off, guilt-free, to write Saving Tessa and Tarot Queen and, for that matter, Beast Within because my subconscious had had a breakthrough, which is why they were all finished in record time.

    Each time I write something new, I learn about what I wrote before and revisit it, but my first novel, though I'm still fond of it, is now nowhere near as good as the later novels. I know that. I may go back and revisit it again, see if I can bring it up to speed. I may just remember what I learned from writing it and be grateful.

    Someone had to be first. Somewhere had to catch the earliest mistakes and point out my shortcomings. Sometimes, the story grows with me. Sometimes, I just keep growing.

    Cold, callous, unkind. I'm cool with that, too. In the end, I write because I'm compelled to, because I have a story to write today. Maybe some will never be written, born prematurely before I had the tools to carry them to where they could have gone. Maybe, someday, I'll get my epiphany where they're concerned, and they'll be finished in a flurry of inspiration into what they could be.

    Either way, I'm down with it.

    (That's not a criticism for those who feel differently about their work. Just the weird way I do.)

  3. *shrug* Has anyone told you novelist people that you make yourselves insane? That you send yourselves into pop pill culture by this obsession over your WIP? Words floe stream like, and if those words fit into novel A then put them there if they fit into short story L then out them there.

    As A poet I am glad I only have to deal with the statistical average that I will be a suicidal junkie alcoholic than a novelist who thinks of work as a child.(Yes I have six or so in the can where they can stay) I love my children but my poetry is not an act of love or obsession or even comparable to the beauty of my kids who are always trying to hit the ATM of dad. My work is simply pulling the chain on the (now) L.E.D light to illuminate a small audience about what I am thinking on these days.

  4. Stephanie, I think your ease with switching is what helps you be most productive, for you sense when something isn't flowing and switch gears to something that moves for you. I've found that working on something when it's NOT working usually only pushes me farther in the wrong direction, and I still have to go back and fix. My first novel is now my best, though, not because I've been able to revise it a little based on what I've learned, but because I have shredded it into something almost unrecognizable from its first incarnation. I rarely tweak anything. If something's wrong, it's VERY wrong, and that means I have to (almost) start from scratch. That's what I'm facing with novel #4 right now. I've gotten on the wrong track, and pretty much have to start over with it, saving the little pieces that will work in the new version.

    Walking Man, I admire your reasoning, and it holds well for my online postings. But my poetry has neither the depth nor the brilliance of your poetry and poetic prose. I rarely revise any of it, and the same goes with my mini-essays posted here. My novels and longer plays take far more preparation and revision, and they work through my memories and ideas in more complicated ways, ways I find impossible using poetry. I think of my blog postings as one-minute calls to a therapy hotline, capable of dredging elements up, but not really flesh them out and deal with them. For that, I need my daily hours-long therapy of novel- or playwriting.

  5. "I've found that working on something when it's NOT working usually only pushes me farther in the wrong direction, and I still have to go back and fix."

    Ditto here, except I often get so disgusted I abandon the whole thing. That's why I work the way I do.

  6. Thx for the link and the great advice… I have tried to no avail. But I have had a breakthrough and moving forward.
    One day I’ll learn how to move on, but as of late, its full steam ahead.

  7. Stephanie, I admit I've abandoned projects. But usually I only set them aside. I've discovered, at times, that I'm simply not ready to write something. I just have to wait for my skill to rise to the project's need. Perhaps it never will, though, and I have to live with that.

    I understand, Jeff. I'm not trying to push you. I am so glad you've had a breakthrough. I often get in a rut, and though I can't figure out why, I've intuitively realized that something big isn't working. But until I know what it is, I'm slogging through tar to get anywhere, and I'm probably, like Stephanie, going in the wrong direction.