Satisfaction Through Frustration: Why Don't You
Reach The End?
In one of my on-line classes, a student mentioned that he had
trouble finishing his writing projects and he wanted to know why. As I know
that other people have this problem – and as I’ve experienced it myself in
the past myself – I decided to devote a column to the subject. This article
is written as a series of questions to ask yourself, with suggestions with
what to do depending on your answers.
Do You Finish Other Projects?
If not, perhaps the problem is not you and writing, but you. You
need to review your general behavior and the projects which you do finish
versus those which you do not.
Maybe you only finish projects when you have deadlines. If this is the
case, perhaps you can arrange to be in a writing situation where you have
deadlines. For example, you may take a class where you have to turn in a
short story, or join a writer’s group where it will be your turn to present
a chapter or a scene.
Do You Want to Write?
I know this is a heretical suggestion, but there are plenty of people out
there who want to be authors – that is, to see their names on the cover of a
book with the great sense of accomplishment and all the expected collateral
fame and money (which usually, alas, does not arrive). There are others who
are moved greatly by the stories of their imaginations and who want to have
these transformed into books.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that they actually want to actually do
the real writing part, with all the time devoted to typing, thinking,
deleting, editing, and concentrating on a single story for what can be as
long as two years or even more.
Do You Actually Have Time to Write?
If you’re a Mom with three kids under the age of five, a job outside the
home as well, and you haven’t had a full night of sleep since, oh, gosh,
when Clinton was in the White House, well, then, maybe you’re too busy just
now. You may think it’s your right to have it all, but I believe that it’s
simply too exhausting to have it all at the same time.
If you’re in this position, but you know that writing is a dream that has
been with you forever, and will be with you later, keep yourself in
training. Read – read what you love; read critically and keep expanding your
mind. Read, too, about writing.
Write, too – but perhaps this isn’t the time of your life to start work
on a 1,500-page trilogy. Write letters, e-mails, scenes, blogs, short
stories and essays. Write short items, when and if you have the time.
Work on your vocabulary and on your skills.
I am not saying that you can’t start work on your dream project. Just
don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get very far very fast. And, if writing
is important to you, you will have to eventually find a way to make it a
priority. This may mean sacrifices, certainly of time, possibly of money and
even of relationships.
Do You Have the Training to Write a Book?
If you had never jogged around the block before, would you sign up for a
marathon and drive to the starting point? If you had never run before, would
you seriously expect to finish said marathon? And, even if you did finish –
instead of having a sprained ankle or even a heart attack – would you
actually expect your time in the race to be good?
The same is true for writing. You need to develop stamina for
concentrating on a story, for putting words down on paper. Yet there are
many who think that they can just sit down and the words will flow from
their fingers onto the paper. This happens occasionally (I adore it when my
muse is generous) but it doesn’t happen consistently. There are too many
people who assume that, just because they know how to read – and they may
even be well-read – that they’re ready to write.
More unfathomable are the people who don’t read who assume,
nevertheless, that they can write. Yet I have encountered a number of these
people too. Often they don’t have much respect for fiction. As you are
reading this column, which is one way of working on your craft, you’re
probably not in this group.
Of course, you have to start somewhere. My suggestion, again, is to begin
with smaller items, such as short stories. If no short stories come to mind
– and short stories are an art form that is very different from the novel –
try writing up a few events from your life – or the lives of others. Get in
some practice; some calisthenics; increase your stamina before buying your
ticket to Mount Everest. Learn how to write a word, a phrase, a sentence and
a paragraph and especially a scene before tackling the 1,500-page trilogy.
Don’t assume that you can do this in a vacuum; you need feedback and
criticism. If you’re not familiar with soliciting critiques, please visit
the Fiction Fix archives, “How to Get – and Take – Criticism.
Is the Project Itself the Problem?
If you have successfully reached the end of other projects and you
generally know how to write, but you are still having problem with a
particular project, perhaps this writing project has problems. Perhaps
there’s something wrong with the storyline. Or perhaps it is good so far but
you don’t know what happens next.
If the story is truly flawed, there is always the possibility that you
may have to throw it away or edit severely. I have many flawed stories in my
files. Some I have rescued through serious cutting; others don’t deserve it.
If you are stuck, well, then you need to think things through. To see
more on overcoming writer’s block, there’s an article in the
“Writers Block Remedies.”
Perhaps you work through these problems, personal and project-related,
and finally make it to the end. Let me be the first to wish you the most
sincere Congratulations! You have written a book. Give yourself a
well-deserved pat on the back.
However, here’s the next question – is it a good book? Is it as
good as it can be? It’s time to look at your story critically, to edit and
to re-write. These subjects, however, will be saved for future columns.
Questions or comments? Write to me at grossackva at yahoo dot com. More
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About the Writer:
Victoria Grossack is, with Alice Underwood, the
internationally published author of Iokaste: The Novel of the
Mother-Wife of Oedipus, and other books coming out in the series called
the Tapestry of Bronze (Tapestry
of Bronze.com). You can also read more of her
articles on writing by ordering the e-book, Levels of Structure in
Victoria was a moderator of a critique group
for Coffeehouse for Writers and teaches the
From Leaves to Forests
Historical Fiction workshops for Coffeehouse for Writers.