I’m in an unpleasant situation currently with my manuscript for Man and Brother: Volume 2 of the Cryptid Series. On one hand, I really need to work on it to see a release date in the next six months. On the other hand, I’ve lost the energy to produce content to edit. So, I have a decision to make: Do I force myself to complete what I know will be an inferior product, or do I step back completely and return to reading and reviewing the books I have in my ever-increasing reading queue?
Why Continue Fighting with my Work-in-Progress (WIP)?
I have several reasons I want to keep hacking at my current manuscript. First, the series needs its second book in place. Second, I don’t want to repeat the mistake of the Dome Trilogy, which were published too far apart from each other–2007, 2012, and 2014. Third, I want to work on the third and fourth books in the series.
The reasons are compelling, but the fight has become pointless. My writing requires that I step into this world of imagination and transcribe the events as I view them. I can’t get into that mental space at all. It’s just text. It’s words, and I don’t feel anything. How am I supposed to create engaging content if I have no depth to insert into it? The story is fine. However, if I report events instead of tell the story, then I am not giving readers my best.
The Hard Road: Escorting a WIP from Idea to Publication
Before I became an author, I believed that writing was an easy process. I conceived that an author would sit down with paper and pen or with a typewriter and produce a masterpiece on first draft. I assumed that back blurbs and biographies were written by other people–copywriters. I assumed that typesetters put down these lovely tales as written by these spectacular geniuses of the written word.
Then, I became an author.
“First draft” implies that more will follow; “rough draft” implies that the product enters the world unpolished. I ignored that until I had a couple of manuscripts completed; I rarely edited. I believed that my stories were strong and word choices were fabulous. It turned out that much of what I experienced within was not being expressed.
I learned that if an author has to explain orally a scene or a story to a reader, then that WIP needs serious reworking. I used to hate editing; now, it’s my favorite part of the process.
So much goes into preparing a cohesive story. In series, a greater story arc across multiple books is present even as the unique volume has its own story arc. Chapters need story arcs. Each scene needs to drive the story forward. The gears of a well-devised tale must be put together properly to make the story machine work. And, most importantly, that storytelling machine has to run behind the scenes as the tale plays out from start to finish.
I’ve learned to outline stories, so I can move scenes to more sensible locations or cut them entirely. I definitely have trouble with chronology issues, so making an outline helps me create a more fluid narrative for myself. I also can look at a scene and ask myself about the characters’ goals and story threads on a novel and on a series level; I have to consider how each influences the scene. I have to make sure the characters are individuals when they enter and are the same individuals when they leave–whether or not they learn a lesson in the scene or over the entire story arc.
I’ve trained myself to cut out backstory, for it bogs down pacing. Though it needs to be kept for reference, unnecessary background detail must be cut yet kept in mind as one rewrites. After all, it influences character goals, character actions. If done well, the reader understands what’s going on without a long exposition.
Most important, I’ve learned that research is ongoing through the drafting and redrafting process. Disbelief must be suspended well enough to make the entire thing sound plausible–despite the reader and I both knowing it’s fiction. Writing is truly a labor of love, because I can’t imagine a person choosing to do this without the stories clamoring to get out and be seen or heard or read.
Letting Go of my WIP Does Not Mean I’m Abandoning Writing Altogether
So, what will I do if I choose to put my manuscript aside and accept the consequences of lifting my deadlines on this work-in-progress?
I have a substantial queue of wonderful independent novels waiting for me to read them. I’ve committed to reading and reviewing books for other authors, and I have put off these reviews because I keep convincing myself I will be done with my own work in a week or two. That hasn’t happened, and it’s been months.
I think the deal-breaker was when I had the first half of the manuscript prepared, and a beta reader brought up an issue with a character he liked in the previous book becoming a villain inexplicably (See: “A Cast of Thousands“). So, it’s like I’m back at first redraft, trying to get the inspiration to write this new character. I still tried for two weeks to work it out and get words down. I did, but this whole project is like a sailboat in the doldrums: It, and I, are going nowhere unless I can paddle or motor my way out.
Honestly, I’m dead inside when it comes to writing. I have some really emotional scenes to put together, and I know I can’t generate the depth of emotion to get myself to care. If I don’t care, then the reader won’t. While everything I would put out would be my best effort for right now, it’s not the best I know I can do. I need the fires of my mind to be more than embers about to go out.
So, reading and reviewing will allow me to keep practicing writing without the pressure of producing my own fictional content. I do hate to review, sometimes, because I don’t want to say anything bad. I honestly should probably read (and NOT review) some unreadable stinkers before I get to the books I want to read and review. I’ve been very lucky to get my hands on some really good fiction in my lifetime.
I’ve decided: I’m going to temporarily put down Man and Brother for the best interest of the novel, itself.
I feel guilty about it. I feel I’ve disappointed my publisher, myself as a writer. I feel like I’ve disappointed the readers who invested in ‘Til Undeath Do Us Part. That fear of disappointing everyone kept me grinding forward on something that needed to be put down months ago. My mistake was fighting this even as I knew I needed to set it down in order to release closer to my deadlines.
I also feel hopeful. Every setback and every mistake is a lesson I can take forward and use in my storytelling. Failure is giving up, and I’m not giving up on publishing at least the first four books of the Cryptid Series. It may not happen on that hard timeline I desperately want to follow, but it will happen.
So, I learned about myself as a writer. I’m not able to knock out a book every 6 months. I wish I could. I’m not giving up publishing altogether. I’ve tried to give up writing and publishing, and I failed at it. If I have to fail at something, then failing at being a quitter is a pretty good blunder to get to admit.