Have you ever committed to a venture – you know, a project, an organization, a relationship – where once you got into it, you realized it wasn’t as beneficial as it might seem?
Lessons from the exes
I’m 24 years old. My fiancée of three years just dumped me a week ago, with no real explanation. I’m Christmas shopping in late November or early December, and as I walk into the mall, who do I see?
My ex. With another guy, laughing it up and acting like nothing happened.
That’s when I realized it probably wasn’t the best relationship I could’ve had. She wasn’t the best person I’d ever met, even though I thought she was. And I certainly wasn’t the ideal human being at that time.
Sometimes it goes like that – it takes a rude awakening to make us realize how far we’ve come away from where we should be. It sometimes takes that punch in the gut to make us wake up.
Lessons from other failures
I’ve had a similar gut-punch experience with my only surviving complete manuscript. It’s on life support, and I have to decide whether to pull the plug or to keep pounding on its chest, hoping for a heartbeat.
I’ve learned a lot about writing, about myself as a writer, and about revision and editing from this old bag of bones. It’s been a worthwhile experience. I learned:
- I can write a novel-length work and stay on focus, on point, on topic; I can tell a story that long and have fun doing it. I didn’t know that before I did it, because all the other efforts in this direction I made were disasters.
- I like editing. I thought I hated it, and when it was hunting and pecking for the odd stray word or strictly trying to find a better sentence structure or phraseology for a passage, it did suck eggs. But now I can rip out huge chunks of irrelevant passages, heck, even whole chapters, and not lament about how great my wording was there, or how funny that line is, or whatever. If it’s off point, it’s gone.
- I don’t have to be afraid of criticism, and I don’t have to shy away from it. If someone doesn’t like my work, then that’s fine. They’re obviously not my intended audience. To those of you who do like my writing, thank you. I needed you and appreciate you more than you know. To those who don’t, thank you too. I needed you as well, to challenge me to get better and strive to be the best I could be in my desperate attempts to please you. I struggle against myself now, and the drive to improve is in me, internal to my working, and always was, but I needed to see it outside on display. Now that I have, get lost and STFU. You suck.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I could go on and on about how writing that many words made me realize things about my writing, forced me to improve my prose, made me question the difference between talent and skill, etc. But … you know, enough’s enough.
Lessons from the messes
I learned other things about writing too. Specifically about this manuscript.
- It needs a lot of work. A LOT of work. I don’t know if I want to do the work. It might be easier just to rewrite the whole damned thing and screw it.
- The story doesn’t have a lot of elements it needs – you know, like, say, stakes for the protagonist. Better get that figured out if I want there to be something interesting for the reader. Ahem.
- The story’s simple; therefore, subplots might help. Or, you know, I have to come up with a better plot. Ahem.
- It’s going to take a lot of time and effort and work to fix this thing. I mean, a LOT of work. And time.
- It didn’t bear scrutiny very well. Man oh man, am I ever glad I took the time to go through it myself before sending it out for critique. Yikes.
- The last half of the book was truly an online serial, not a novel. It didn’t work except to keep readers hanging from one installment to the next, and like Flash Gordon from the old theater days, the story wasn’t … wasn’t very good. So the basic elements to forward the story make up maybe, maybe, one chapter. And the rest is fluffy bullsh!t which must go.
- It will take a lot of work to fix the book. Did I mention that already? I can’t say it enough. It will take a LOT of work to fix it.
Lessons learned, eh? I wouldn’t have learned them without my wife to help me, by the way. But there it is. I have to decide now. But the decision isn’t whether to fix this book or let its poor, misshapen little blob die. I won’t do that. I will fix it, I will put in the work, but over time, unless I get bitten by the bug and just dive in. No, that’s not the decision. That book was important for a lot of reasons, but the decision on that one is made, I think.
Now, the decision…
The decision is, now what? What next? Do I write another book? I’ve got a few rough ideas jotted down in notebooks around the house. Do I give up writing for publication and resign myself to being one of about half a billion blogger-authors? (The dying WIP was a hit with Internet readers, btw.) Do I give up on fiction and focus on trying to get another non-fiction gig? Hey, I got published there. It could happen.
All of those make me nauseous, to be honest. Letting this project go is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my writer’s journey. Ever. It’s been a major focus – some would say obstacle – in my writing for three years. To just let it go feels like quitting, but the amount of work to fix it is daunting.
It’s like seeing the fiancée who just dumped you in the mall with another guy. It hurts.
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