Some of you might have the same malady today. Those of you who’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo 2015 are staring down the finish line, some from up close and others (like yours truly) from far, far away. To those of you who have made or will make it to 50k words by midnight tonight, congratulations! To my fellow stragglers, also-rans, and just-couldn’t-quite-do-it writers like myself, I share your pain and disappointment. This wasn’t our year. And as I know you know by now, that’s okay. Sometimes it really is the journey that matters. We’ll get to the destination of a completed first draft eventually.
I’ve already documented some of my own roadblocks to NaNo success. I finished my novella (woot!), then had a hell of a time switching gears to jump into the next novel-length story. My time was much more limited than I’d hoped, and like other American participants, I had the distractions of the Thanksgiving holiday. And just when I thought I was ready for an all-out sprint that might have at least gotten another 10k words on the page, I received an in-depth critique on a different novel, which sent me tripping and stumbling off the track.
That’s right. I broke one of the cardinal rules of NaNoWriMo: Thou shalt not think about revisions during the month of November. For the past several days, I’ve thought about little else. I wish I could say this is just the first or second or third round of revisions for this particular manuscript. Sadly, it’s not. Not even close. I’ve already spent more time, creative capital, and mental energy on this one than several other projects combined. But I knew things still weren’t right with it, so I sought out some expert advice (aka a full content edit) from a professional. Thus far, I’ve divided the comments into three buckets, which I’ve labeled Damn It, Holy Crap, and Uh-Oh.
Damn It. While some of the critique comments weren’t a surprise because they are my weaknesses (too little description, too much reliance on snappy dialogue, not enough bodies in motion), they were a disappointment because, damn it, how did I not fix all of that the first few hundred times I revised this beast?
Holy Crap. Other comments came as a surprise. The protagonist’s goal isn’t clear. Actually, there’s a clear goal, but then there’s a fuzzy secondary goal which keeps mucking up the primary goal and drawing the antagonist’s attention and holy crap! I know so much better than to do that, and yet I did it without even realizing it. And then revised over and over and over again without ever fixing it.
Uh-Oh. These were the comments that will be hardest to address. They are big and deep and structural. One of the recommendations is to basically yank the rug out from under Act II, because it’s undermining the structure of the rest of the book. Another is to dial back some of the protagonist’s choices – ones which, until now, I had viewed as necessary to her character arc – because they change the tone of the book.
So how long should we spend on one project? How many times should we go back to a problem story to try to breathe life back into it? I know I’m not the only writer struggling with this question. I’m not even the only one on this blog. Thus far, the only answer I’ve been able to formulate for myself is to honestly assess whether I have anything else to give to and any more lessons to learn from this project. After a long (very long!) weekend of contemplation, I’ve come to the realization that in this case, the answer is yes on both counts. The comments from this deep-dive critique have put me in a new head-space with this story, and I’m not ready to quit it just yet.
So December will be about finding a balance between writing new words on the new story, and rewriting/cutting/adding words on draft #237 of the old one. (For anyone who will be joining me in this writers’ circle of hell, I give you Chuck Wendig’s ‘simple’ 25-step approach to revision. Someday I hope to make it to #25.)
Have you given up on any of your writing projects? How did you know when to cut and run? And do you think you’ll ever go back for ‘just one more try’?