When I’m working on a novel, I keep track of ideas and sort through my thoughts about them in a file I call Ideas & Thoughts. In case anyone thinks it gets easier when you’ve written several, here’s a note copied from my March 3 entry, two days after I’d started thinking about getting back to work on a novel manuscript I’d set aside for a few months, after getting some pretty challenging feedback on it.
There’s a sadness in coming back to this that I probably need to acknowledge in order to free myself of it and make room for the joy that comes with bringing a story to life or at least a certain eagerness to get at it and excitement about the possibilities. I’m afraid of the sadness pulling me into the kind of funk that has me dreading my work, in which it’s all but impossible to do good work. But can I stare it down? What is this sadness?
Does it come from looking back at how I’ve thought I’d nailed this, and comparing it to how boring it looked when I skimmed through it? It isn’t boring, your group would say, and if you think so, maybe it’s too soon to go back to it. But it’s such a huge thing to have hanging over me that I just can’t fathom the idea of setting it aside for longer than I already have. And another project is going to be rife with challenges too. At least this one I’ve got the challenges identified and some material to work with. Some good material.
Has the sadness to do with my sense of incompetence? First, that I have not been able to do what needs to be done and secondly, that I have not been able to recognize how far short my efforts have left me, my project, my characters?
I suppose one way of looking at it is that I’m at the stage I was at with Fish House Secrets when I was told the characters were cardboard figures. There I had a strong setting. Here I have a strong situation. Situations. Maybe too many situations…
Doubts. So many doubts. Maybe that’s the source of the sadness. But the only way out of doubt is to forge on. Face down the problems that seem too big to fix, too tangled to untangle. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. But 170,000 words worth of “ideas and thoughts”!? Maybe I’m not going to get there on this one. Maybe this one is a pit of quicksand and the harder I try to get out of it, the deeper in I’ll get and eventually I’ll just die here. …
Failing – which is what you’ve done (so far?) – can be a necessary step on the way to a great success. It doesn’t have to be a permanent state.
I’m really not in the mood for this pep talk. Or for any more wallowing in doubt and sadness. I want to be back in the state where time falls away and unexpected things are happening on the page. And there’s only one way to get there. Get out of here. Get back to your characters, their stories…
By the end of the day on March 4, I’d written:
Gees, going through ms with an eye to totally reorganizing the material in it, the prospect of firming up an outline for the next draft actually starts seeming like it could be fun. (I must be nuts.)
The danger of a debilitating funk seems to have passed. I’ve written another 2500 words or so in Ideas & Thoughts, and some of those thoughts seem (if I may say so) quite brilliant – at least for now. And I’ve got three different versions of a new outline, each of which will serve a different purpose when I take the plunge (very soon) into a new draft. I’ve even opened a file called March (New) Draft. So, wish me luck!
And I’ll wish you all the best with whatever your current project might be too – writing or otherwise.