Good practice while stalled?
by Mike Chiero
To Mr. Strathy,
I am stuck and frustrated to the point of throwing in the towel with my novel. So I've taken to writing what I guess one would call an opinion piece to "stay in shape" and not allow my skills to deteriorate any further. My question is what to do with it once I finish? I am an amateur and would like to know if I should try to do something with it or just consider it an exercise to ward off writer's rust.
Thank you sir,
Every writer experiences times when they know their current project isn't working and consider throwing it away. (It's the worst of the five universal stages of stress.)
The most important thing you can do is reduce some of that stress. Set aside your manuscript for a week or so. Go spend some time in nature. Have some fun. Working on a different project for a while (as you have done) can also help move you out of that stress state.
After you have returned to a more relaxed and positive frame of mind, look at the manuscript again. See if you can reconnect with the core emotion of the piece, or if you can see a way to solve the dilemma that has been concerning you. Often your subconscious will have solved the problem during your time away.
If you can't find a solution, but you still believe the project has potential, perhaps talk about your story with some other writers. Get a second opinion from someone you trust. Join a critique group, etc.
It is true that sometimes
a novel project is just a "practice novel" that will never be quite worthy of being published, but will help develop your skills as a writer. The trouble is, you can't know in advance if a project will turn out to be a practice novel or a masterpiece. Yet you have to believe your current project will be a masterpiece in order to have the motivation to finish it.
That said, most writers have a number of half-finished and abandoned practice novels.
But let's say you find a solution to whatever's hanging you up about your current novel, and you finish a draft.
Your next step would be (again, after a stress-reducing break) to revise that draft and make a second draft that is as good as you can make it.
Then perhaps show it to some people you trust and get some objective opinions.
Only after all this work can you decide if you have a novel that is publishable. If you believe it may be, you can begin the laborious task of looking for an agent or publisher, or pursuing other publishing options.
Most likely, you will want to be writing something else while you're shopping your first novel around.
Because this whole business seems designed at times to frustrate us to no end, it's important that you keep the fun in the writing process. If you don't enjoy the writing, you won't have the motivation to finish anything anyway. So whenever you feel stressed or frustrated, step back. Relax. Remember how much fun it is to create. Then reengage when you can do so with renewed enthusiasm.
Best of luck.