And I don’t refer to the atrocious winter weather Maryland has experienced lately. I’m referring to what I’ve been calling Novel 2. I’m disappointed to report that as of now, what was to be my second “official” novel is being iced. Stuck in a drawer. Shelved. Whatever term you prefer, the point is this; I am no longer going to pursue completing that novel. At least not for the foreseeable future.
After consulting with some colleagues and friends about this issue that has been weighing on me for months, I came to this difficult decision. I avoided this conclusion for quite a while, despite having not progressed much in the first draft for the better part of a year. I don’t believe in quitting, you see, and I am always cognizant of how much discipline writing requires. The last thing I wanted to become was someone who wrote half a novel and then blew it off.
I got to thinking though, that if a warped sense of pride, and fear of being labeled “lazy” are the biggest reasons I’ve sought to continue a stalled project, then I’m not looking at things in the proper light. If those fears have kept me, at least technically, still in pursuit of Novel 2, as opposed to being moved by the story, or feeling a gripping need to explore a theme, I perhaps have no business continuing the manuscript.
It likely would have been a different story had a finished first draft existed. That to me is a success, a first draft. That is the lump of clay into which something solid and artful can be molded. But over the last several years, wave after wave of my work on this novel has rolled, crested, but ultimately crashed upon the rocks. Reboots, Nanowrimo experiments, severe edits, tone changes all have given the work a new sputter of life for a few weeks at most, only to stall again a short time later.
The funny thing is, I generally know where the plot is going. It is not writer’s block, per se. Last fall I called this general feeling, “writer’s weight,” though with Novel 2 it has become severe, and has removed much of the excitement of writing. Butt-in-chair? I have my problems with that as an overall philosophy, but for the sake of argument I can point to a number of other things over the same time frame for which I have kept my butt sufficiently in the chair to complete, or head towards completion. My first novel. Thank You For Ten. My one-man show that opens this month. Two drafts of another play. Nanowrimo, both short stories and a mystery novel. Not to mention my non-fiction, job related writing. I won’t claim I’ve never been lazy, because I have. Yet over the last two years my body of work, (if I am fair to myself for a change) displays a distinct lack of laziness when it comes to my writing. Novel 2 is just not working right now, and my avoidance of it will not be cured any longer by delving even deeper into it. I’ll resent the work if I go on like this, and I don’t want that to happen. So, I’m icing it.
I could come back to it someday, of course. That freedom, (of which more than one colleague reminded me lately) is helping me live with my decision. I’m not quitting this book; I am postponing it. I may or may not ever return to it, but I always can. I’ve wrestled in the mud with it so long, however, that everything is covered in that mud, and I can’t distinguish as well anymore. If it is to have any hope of ever being a novel, it has to go on hiatus for a few years. (Barring something unusual taking place that would expedite the process.)
This happens in the course of a career, I know. I knew it would occur with me. I just didn’t think it would happen with what was to be only my second “official” novel. And since I had no developed idea at all for what would have been the eventual Novel 3 I have no long-form project to jump to at the moment. Sentence fragments and the broadest of broad concepts are all I had in the tank for future novels. If I’m to continue novel writing in the near future, I’ll have to coax one of those shadow-ideas into solidity, or otherwise brainstorm a bit and come up with something new. Maybe that is one positive that can come from this; opening avenues in my imagination to new possibilities which I kept somewhat at bey while Novel 2 occupied priority seating there. It may prove a useful decision.
Yet still I don’t like it. Still I fear the stamp of “lazy:, or “undisciplined.” I can’t be certain that I’ve made this decision for the correct reasons. Yet the decision is made, and I grew weary of wondering what to do about it. President Truman is alleged to have said, “Some questions cannot be answered. But they can be decided.” I’ve decided to ice an incomplete first draft. Hopefully I will also decide that this was the right thing to do.
- “Birth” of a Story | Ty Unglebower
- Ripeness | Ty Unglebower
- How Much Writing Do You Save? | Ty Unglebower
- Mood Matters. | Ty Unglebower
I feel as if sometimes—even when a project is no longer working for us, even when it is no longer serving us—we hold onto it for dear life because to let go of it feels like failure. After all, we’ve wanted it for so damn long. And it’s even worse when other people know about it. When they ask: how’s that book coming? what are you doing now? why haven’t you finished yet? Exactly how long does this publishing process take? Even though you shouldn’t feel ashamed to admit you’ve left that project behind… you do.
I’ve wrestled with this myself. With the book project that, in the end, didn’t sell and, after a time, didn’t feel worth pursuing anymore. With the career coaching business that began to feel ill-fitting, not least of all because of a sudden glut of career “gurus.” With the constant cycle of pitch-wait-wait some more-wait some more-follow up-etc. Like, why am I jumping through hoops to be poorly paid (or not paid at all) for a piece of writing I probably won’t even be proud of? I changed. My dreams and passions changed. But for awhile, I fought against those changes because I had worked so hard and put so much into the old dreams.
I would never think you were lazy for shelving your second novel, temporarily or otherwise. Good on you for stepping away from something that isn’t serving you right now!
Thanks, Steph, for sharing your thoughts on this.
I guess to a certain extent such feelings can extend beyond any given writing project into other projects, and even into a lifestyle or choice. We feel invested in it, and find it difficult to let go of it, even when it no longer speaks to us.