For those of you who didn’t see this on my social networks today, I was very pleased to announce that I’d been invited to send in a post for the Nanowrimo blog, now that they’re doing a series of posts on the general theme of “Now what?” for folks coming out of doing Nanowrimo this past November.
My post went up today and can be found here! (The Nano blog is hosted on Tumblr, so if you’re a user there and you feel so inclined, reblog it, won’t you? Thank you!) If you’re coming to my blog from that post or from places it got shared today, hiya and welcome!
This post, though, is in response to a question that I got asked on Twitter:
Good post. Now I need advice on what to do when you're sick of your story lol
— A. Denefield Jones (@ADenefieldJones) January 13, 2017
This, I felt, is an excellent question. So here’s a post about that.
First, at least in my experience, there are a few different variations of “sick of your novel” that might happen. So I’m going to talk about each, and what I’ve been able to do about them.
Oh god oh god I have been trying to pull words out of my brain for this thing for MONTHS NOW and they’re just not working and AUGH.
If I’ve been pounding my head against a work in progress for what seems like forever, and it feels like the words just don’t want to flow, this is usually a warning sign that something about what I’m doing isn’t actually right for the story. What I have to do for this is take a step back, see if I can figure out what is not working, and come at it from a new angle.
This is in fact something I’m wrestling with on my current work in progress, Warder Soul. I got about 20,000 words in on it, but with this lingering sense of discontent with what I was doing. But after talking it out some with my wife (who, while not a writer, is an EXCELLENT refiner of my ideas), I decided to try the beginning again with a new strategy.
I am unbelievably stressed out right now and the sheer thought of looking at my word processor is making me want to pitch my computer out the window.
There are times, though, that the failure to produce words isn’t necessarily the fault of the story. If I’m too stressed out by external causes, this can kick my creative productivity in the teeth and make pulling words out of my brain about as fun as pulling teeth out of my mouth.
I’ve got a stupidly complicated medical history for somebody my age, and as a result of this, I’ve had long stretches in the last 12 years in which it was impossible for me to get any creative work done due to having to recover from assorted medical things.
Similarly, I have come to learn that if I’m stressing out about other sorts of things (like oh, say, the election that just happened), this can also kick my productivity in the face.
What I have learned to do about this: give myself permission to not write. Which might seem counterintuitive to the whole “but I’m stressing the fuck out about not writing to begin with” thing, sure. But the thing is, for me, a certain level of pressure to get a novel done can be useful. Too much pressure, on the other hand, is setting myself up for creative burnout. I have had to learn to tell myself that it’s okay if I need to take a creative break. Even if it’s a long one.
In times where it would stress me out almost as much to not actually be writing, I compromise with myself and set a stupidly low daily word count goal. Say, two hundred words. Something tiny like that which doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating as, say, five hundred or a thousand. And if I can achieve a much smaller goal like that, sometimes the sense of satisfaction I get from it is enough to make me want to keep going.
But again, it’s also important to tell myself that if all I have in me for a day is two hundred words, it’s okay if I stop.
I have been revising this novel SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME AND I CANNOT STAND TO EDIT YET ANOTHER WORD.
Any writer who’s gotten past the first draft knows this pain, boy howdy let me tell you. Editing can be deeply satisfying for me sometimes–digging into a scene or a chapter, and finding little nuances I can change about it to improve it. On the other hand, if I go six or seven drafts (and I HAVE), this can get really tiresome really fast. Particularly given that I do also have a full time day job, and I often just don’t have enough brain left over after a full day at work to come home and beat a chapter’s worth of edits into submission. (This, by the way, would be why I haven’t been able to finally edit Queen of Souls yet.)
And sometimes, if I go long enough editing a given book, I just start missing actually creating brand new words.
Which is exactly why I have multiple works in progress. If I get sick of editing something, I can go throw words at something else for a while. Which does help.
Non-writing-related breaks also help. For me, that’s usually a) getting on the treadmill, b) picking up an instrument and practicing tunes, or c) playing games.
I’m doing Nanowrimo as fast as I POSSIBLY CAN and oh god oh god I can’t stand the thought of one more day of this AUGH.
Nanowrimo demands you write at least 1,667 words every day of the month to hit that 50,000 word goal. And y’know what? That’s frickin’ hard for a lot of writers, even people who have been writing for years. It’s okay if you start feeling burned out by the pace.
When I’m trying to do Nano, it helps immensely to remind myself that while hitting that 50,000 word goal is fun and all, at the end of the day (or the month, as it were), the actual end goal is to write a novel. And even if I don’t manage to do the 50,000 words in November, if I keep going and eventually wind up with a book, I still win.
And part of what I learned from my very first Nanowrimo is that, in fact, I usually can’t manage a Nano-level daily word count. My much more standard goal is 500 words a day.
If you try Nanowrimo and find that that daily word count is too much for you, it is entirely okay if you pull back to a pace that better fits your creative speed. Every single writer has different capacities. Every single writer has different ways they’ll need to do things. Find the pace that works for you.
How about the rest of you?
Those are the major ways I’ve found to date that I can get sick of a work in progress, so now I’ll turn it over to my fellow writers and Nanowrimo regulars out there: how have you found yourself getting sick of works in progress? What do you do about it when it happens? Tell me about it in the comments!
Editing to add: The writer who sent me that tweet above now has a post up about this! Check it out!