Kay: Time to Throw in the Towel

Photo by Jan Jacobsen 2008.

Photo by Jan Jacobsen 2008.

I’ve been working on the second book of a planned three-part trilogy for a while—it seems like years, but it’s been just a few months. Time has been dragging because the book has been progressing poorly.

Sometimes I think all my books progress poorly, but this one really has hit Olympian heights of lousy progression. Everything is bad. My outline refuses to come together, and no matter how I approach it, I can’t seem to fill the holes. My writing is flat. To look at my story notes, you’d think I have enough good, strong conflict, but it isn’t working. I have a cute opening scene that I like a lot, but it doesn’t reflect the rest of the book or sufficiently introduce the story questions. If I cut that, I’ll be cutting the best thing in the book. I want to just keep writing—get that first draft done!—and so far, that’s been my path. I’ve got almost 45,000 words now, and I hate it. Nobody wants to read this mess, including me.

So now what?

Skule Brass Quintet Christmas concert led by Malcolm McGrath, Nov. 29, 2007.

Skule Brass Quintet Christmas concert led by Malcolm McGrath, 2007.

I see that I have three options, and two of those are related. The first option is, just keep going. Paste on my monitor all the book-finishing-affirmations from Nora Roberts that I can find (You can’t fix a blank page! Put your butt in the chair and write!) and just Get. It. Done. Quality comes with revisions, so get that first draft out of the way. Nora never gave up on a book, and I won’t either! GO! [cue trumpet clarion call]

BlanksheetThe second option is, set it aside. For some reason, the story gods are capricious right now. It’s okay to obey them. Work on something else. Finish that. Then come back. Nobody says you have to get to Point B by climbing over the mountain and through the thistle patch when the paved road is right over there. By the time you get back to your story, that mountain will be leveled and the thistle patch paved over. A lot of writers jump from story to story, and it hasn’t seemed to hurt their overall output any. [cue improvisational jazz]

Hot 8 Brass Band playing "jazz funeral" for New Orleans blogger Ashley Morris. Photo by Howie Luvzus, 2008

Hot 8 Brass Band plays jazz funeral for New Orleans blogger Ashley Morris. Photo by Howie Luvzus, 2008.

The third option is, just forget about it. There’s too many stories out there waiting to be told. Even I, who brag that I have only one idea at a time, have several things I could be working on instead. I don’t have to bang my head against a stone wall. I wanted a trilogy? Forget it. A standalone works fine, too. [cue funeral dirge]

So what am I going to do? I don’t mind working hard, and writing is full of frustrations. I get that. But when a story isn’t panning out, it might be time to give it a rest. Will it be a funeral or just a temporary halt?

So what about you guys? Have you ever hit a wall? What did you do then? And why?




11 thoughts on “Kay: Time to Throw in the Towel

  1. I’m still using the excuse that anything I write is still in the practice stage. I’m not at the Million Words stage, I don’t think. So, for me, it’s about producing a million of decent, fun words, no matter how I have to do it.

    Although, now I’ve done several NaNos, and have a lot of first-drafts scattered around my hard drive. It’s kind of time to start “practicing” the next part — the editing and getting things into shape. (Although to tell the truth, I often have a lot “takes” where I can’t write a person across a scene. So, I still need a lot of first-draft practice, too, I think.)

    So, abandoning stuff is OK with me. It’s not like I’m leaving children on the street. They are all somewhere in the back of my head, if I want to take up with them again. (Although, they are different when I pick them up months later — which is probably a good thing. There was a reason I abandoned them in the first place.)

    • Good point, Michaeline—it isn’t like leaving children on the street. I have been feeling a bit that way, that I got a troublesome child, she’s all noisy and talks back and is disobedient, and now I want to ditch her for the sweet, pretty one that does what I tell her. Until my hard drive crashes and burns or I figure something else out, I can always go back.

      • It might help to have some sort of ceremony — a little story orphanage with very sweet matrons who will give her hot milk and a yoga mat.

        (-: Oh, I am so screwed up. But, you can put a story to bed, and revisit it later.

  2. I hit multiple walls with Cam and Mary’s book (second in my contemporary series), and I’m still really frustrated about it because I know who they are, how their characters evolve and why they deserve each other. So far I haven’t been able to find the plot that excites me and expresses what I know about them. After my first couple of efforts didn’t really gel, I tried going back to write a novella about the beginning of their shared backstory. That shaped up okay and threw me back into another attempt at the main book, and I created an outline that made sense but when I came to write it, I didn’t want those characters to do those things. I got sidetracked by secondary characters. It didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t get past it.

    Then I got an idea for a fantasy story so I decided to give it a try, just to refresh myself by writing something totally different. I’m wrestling with that story at the moment but in a positive way. The people and many of the world and plot elements are in place, even if they are playing up right now. I believe I’ll finish this book and will go on to write more stories in this world with these characters – there is much more to explore than I can manage in one book.

    I’m also planning to go back to Cam and Mary. I know Michaeline said it’s not like we’re leaving children on the street, but these characters are still alive in my head so I have a touch of that feeling. I love them and it bothers me that I am leaving them in limbo. I’m going to tell their story, and then Rob’s (which I have lots of notes about already), and then Sasha’s – I have some ideas about her, too, and I’m going to do some bonus story research this summer en route to RWA in San Diego.

    That’s about a decade’s worth of writing at my current pace. I need to write faster. I’m thinking maybe alternating between the two series might keep my story brain happy.

    • Argh! This sounds like my situation. I know these people, I like them, I know what they want, I just can’t make it work. It sounds like you have a long-term plan, though, which is good. I think that’s really the only way to look at a writing life.

  3. II reach that point with, not every book, but as often as not.

    When I hit that with Dara and Belial, I set them aside and wrote the first chapters of a novel about Adie Phelps, a woman who wins an extreme makeover and then returns home to the husband who married a homely woman for a reason and the 12-year-old daughter with the nose Mom just got rid of. As soon as my heart and brain were, I thought, fully engaged in Adie’s story, Dara and Belial hollered, “We’re ready!” so I set Adie aside. They weren’t lying–the rest of their story wrote itself.

    When it happened with Keeffe and Asmodeus s a couple of months ago, I figured I’d go back and finish Adie’s story, but it had gone cold. I kept trying to force one or the other of the stories to move forward, but I was getting nowhere. And then one Saturday morning I caught a glimpse of a show called Lucky Dog and thought, “Brandon McMillan would make a perfect romance hero.” So I started playing around with his (fictional) story. At which point, Keeffe and Asmo called, “Could you finish us up, please?”

    My WIPs are like dysfunctional relationships, where they only behave nicely when I’m standing at the door, threatening to leave them for someone else.

  4. Ha! What a great story, Jeanne! Congratulations on all your characters returning to the fold. I’m glad to hear they came back and you were able to finish them. I think I might try that strategy.

  5. I keep plodding along a la Nora Roberts. I’m too stubborn to let it go. Although I’m at the same place with my story as you are. Maybe I need to go back to my other unfinished manuscript and see if I can beat that one into submission.

    • This is the first manuscript I’ve felt unable to complete, and I too am normally very Nora-like in the sense of sitting down and hammering it out. I just wish I could be as prolific as she! Just today I was thinking, If I redefine my heroine’s goals, just a little, does that give some of these scenes more punch? It might. I’ve already trashed two versions of the looking-for-houses scene. Can I stand to try again? I don’t know. I might have to lie down with a cool cloth on my forehead for a while and think about it.

  6. At our local RWA meeting this week, the speaker mentioned something similar that happened to Jennifer Crusie. She said she took a break from writing, and went back to brainstorming. In this particular example, Crusie had done a collage, and when she finished the collage, she had a clearer understanding of how to make everything work. I went and looked online for the original post, and then when I saw YOUR post, it sounds like something that might be helpful either to you or to someone else. Here is the link: http://arghink.com/2014/03/questionable-pictures-and-writing/

    Good luck and happy writing!

  7. Aubrey, thanks for the link! I always enjoy hearing what Jennifer Crusie has to say. I’m not much for collaging, but at this point I’d be willing to try anything. Maybe just sittin’ and thinkin’ will be enough.😀

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