To my right is an old warped cork board covered in index cards with places and characters written on them. They belong to a story I began last summer with my son, but abandoned once he was in school.
It’s hard to plot out a story you’re writing with a child who isn’t home…
But there they are – staring at me with weird made up words on them, penned out in a variety of obnoxious colors like neon green and magenta.
My computer and this cork board are in my bedroom, so each night as I sit in bed, I stare at them. About a week ago it occurred to me I should take them down, seal them in an envelope and save them for next summer when my son and I can pick up where we left off. (We have a rather extraordinary world, but not much premise or story as of yet.) But then as I looked them over – our sea monster, flying men, dragons, etc., – I decided to let them stay.
This decision brought up other questions: How long is too long to write a story? How many stories should I be working on at once? When is it the “official” time to throw in the towel?
Staring at his board had become my late night meditation. At first I would think about this world we created, and now I think of answers to those questions.
When I ventured out on this writing path (many moons ago) it was all very linear. You wrote a story, you had people read the story, you adjusted the story, you sent it to agents who either ignored you completely or sent robo response rejection letters. But now (many moons later) the answers to those questions have changed dramatically and I know the path is more chaotic than ever.
#Q1 – How long is too long to write a story? A1 – There is no time line. When you set a time line is when you mess up the story. You begin to rush, you miss details, your characters are thinner than the paper you want your story published on.
#Q2 – How many stories should I be working on at once? Q2 – I used to think the only way to write was to write one story at a time. Now, I can’t speak for you, but on a good day I have 5+ stories in my head rattling around like marbles in a jar. Currently I’m working on a new novel I’m calling “Triangle”, I’m also reworking an old novel in a new format that I feel will work better for its multi-character storyline, I have another novel waiting in my writing queue ready for a good edit (because my last edit was impetuous and damaging), and then there is the one on the wall and another one that keeps invading my dreams. Oh, and then there is the novella that I want to self publish – so make that 6+. (…then there are the others made up of only characters or vague premise that aren’t worth mentioning yet…)
Once upon a time, working on one thing suited for me, but only because I convinced myself that was how “real authors” wrote. Now I write in a way that keeps me wanting to write.
#Q3 – When is it the “official” time to throw in the towel? A3 – Back then, I used to get tired so I would give up on manuscripts – these days its more like we “take a break” from each other. I’ll have Beta Readers email me and ask about old titles, “What happened to that book? I loved that one!” And I’ll tell them I’m working on something new. They fret I’ve given up, but in truth I have not. If you believe in your story, your characters, your world – you will never officially throw in the towel. Because when you love something so much, giving up on it isn’t an option.
These are the things I remind myself on the days I do want to give up. Lately, I have more of those than I’d like to admit, but at the same time this is the most consistent my writing has ever been. I write DAILY. I edit DAILY. I challenge myself DAILY. And I permit myself to take a step back when I know I need one, because some days the words flow, and others its like trying to pulled tar out of the bottom of a nail polish jar. But I do it anyway.
Because even though it feels like I’m not going anywhere, I know as long as I try I’m making better strides than giving up.