So I Wrote a Novel…and Then I Avoided It Like the Plague

canstockphoto2547234And one day, when I’m mere ashes being transported in a tacky vase to my destination of choice (my reading chair, of course), they will rifle through my meager possessions to find a two inch black binder covered in a thin layer of dust and decorated with geometric coffee rings on every other page.

There will be notes in red ink hastily scrawled along the margins: Geez, time travel much? Get Strunk and possibly White, this grammar stinks! Schedule mammogram. Look up spelling of onomonopea omonomopia. Bread, milk, canola oil, trail mix with cherries, toothpaste. Thank you note to Grandma. Who is this character? If I don’t know, is he needed? Unnecessary side plot. Pay Visa.

As you can see, I have the attention span of a sugared-up hamster after consuming a box of powdered doughnuts. Even less, because the hamster at least finished the box of doughnuts, which is more than I can say for the editing of my novel. National Novel Writing Month was fan-friggin’-tastic for pushing me to write, but it turns out, when the month was done, I was still left with me. Procrastinating me – rationalizing every missed opportunity and every interruption as impossible to avoid, when all I’m trying to avoid is facing this 50,000+ word train wreck.

And check it out, I’ve taken more time to write blog posts about my novel than actual time editing it:

Purposeless Dialogue

The Making of a Serial Killer: Fictional Characterization

When the Writer’s Away…

Every day I plan to work on it. By a half hour in, I’m ready to scoop litter boxes. That doodoo would be easier to deal with than this bog of words into which I’m sinking. This morning I’ve been distracted by a very large spider crawling across the ceiling overhead. There’s the sound of a train in the distance. Emails are making my phone vibrate. My daughter just broke into a coughing fit while sleeping in the other room. Dogs are barking good mornings to each other across neighborhood fences.

My brain is cycling through 15 different writing projects, none of which include my novel. Problem? I’m not sure I want to fix it. It feels like a shoddy investment – I’ll fix it up and flip it, like a starter home, but I have never settled in and said this is the kind of story I want to tell. Sometimes, as a fellow writer pointed out, you just have to get the garbage out of your system before getting down to business. Oh. My novel has become a bad relationship – I’m sticking with it, because I’m afraid nothing better will come along. And maybe, just maybe, if I keep at it, things will change.

I’m the perfect unpaid writer. I write on whims and random thoughts. Word count goals got me to the table, but I’m too busy wondering if the table is pressed wood or if it came from an oak with a long history, mowed down to satisfy corporate profit and if corporations really do own us now and if they do, what’s the point of having a fake representative government….uh, where was I?

53 Comments on “So I Wrote a Novel…and Then I Avoided It Like the Plague

  1. I was just sitting here chastizing myself for not working on my book. Maybe it’s contagious?

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  2. I have the same problem. I succeeded with flying colors at NaNoWriMo but my work is definitely a train wreck. I’ve read through it once and I have no clue how to salvage it.

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    • It’s good to hear that from an experienced writer. I almost feel like I need to write a different book entirely, but after working so hard on it to meet the NaNo goal, I’m not quite ready to give up.

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  3. I have two NaNo novels I’m avoiding. Every time I think about editing, I remember that the plants need watering, or I need a nap, etc. Glad to know I’m not the only one!

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    • Well, I wonder if this is where many of us get stuck. I’d really like to do it again (NaNoWriMo) this year, but I don’t want word count to be the only endgame.

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      • I can’t speak for anyone else, but I love NaNo. It makes me write. The problem is, I think I get burned out writing that many words in that short a time. I think if I do it this year, I must make myself follow through and take advantage of the editing help available. And maybe I should think about actually finishing both stories. 🙂

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        • The follow through is always the trick. As I was gardening today, I really thought about going all in and just committing to this novel for the summer. There are so many other challenges I haven’t backed down from – maybe this is one of those do-or-die moments. Nothing like a little pressure, right?
          I’m planning on doing NaNo this November as well. I also plan on NOT having the flu this time around, but you know what they say about the best laid plans…

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        • Instead of saying you plan on not having the flu; why not say you plan to stay healthy? Small thing,but focusing on what you don’t want will often make it materialize because that’s where your focus is.

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        • I’m sure it will be a crap shoot, but I’m hoping that being seriously ill last November means my immune system got stronger! So healthy is a good thing to plan.

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  4. Here is something you could try – it’s a bit different. Get a bunch of coloured post-it notes and some blank sheets of paper. Put chapter headings on each page of blank paper and then as you go through what you’ve written, capture the tidbits you like on the post-it notes. Stick these on the blank chapter pages. Once through your whole draft, you should have only the parts of the book that you valued. Now you can start to rewrite the whole thing. Lots of work – yes! But the tactile experience of the handwriting and the stickies could just pluck you out of the tattered manuscript and into something new. Just an idea. Good luck.

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    • That’s a great idea! I think, too, that I made the mistake of describing my novel to people when they asked and allowed myself to get trapped with a story line. I’m trying to expand on the characters to see if they take me in a direction that is more enjoyable.

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  5. Is there a pill for this? I need one. Bad.

    My daughter’s illness has become all the reasons behind my procrastination. But maybe it started before that. There was a time when everything rolled and I would reach levels beyond my expectations on a near daily basis. I thought it was just luck – another excuse.

    Last week there were many new developments in my life – my daughter’s state and options for treatment – it was all sort of unexpected and it was very good. I felt terribly overwhelmed – especially emotionally – but with it came some kind of motivation. I’m hoping there is a little opening in that window.

    There has to be an explanation. Right? How do we turn it around? There must be an answer somewhere…

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    • One of the things I try to remind myself is that life happens no matter what we plan. I try to think about “What if every day were like this one – crazy busy, interruptions, unexpected visitors, emails, etc.? How do I make room for writing in the face of it all this?” If I keep waiting for the serene calm of an unscheduled day, I’ll be waiting a long time.

      There are times, too, when I take my procrastinating ways as a sign – something isn’t working for me, something has changed, the time is not now, but as in writing, if I want to continue, I go to another project. I believe something will click and enthusiasm will take the place of procrastinating. I hope it’s not magical thinking!

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  6. I’ve written 5 so far, 3 of them published…but I hate that feeling of getting bogged down in a mushy, incoherent plot with characters you don’t like. My only advice: keep writing, until you can’t stand it any longer. Then put this one away and start fresh. Repeat as needed.
    K.

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    • Congrats on your publishing successes! My plot seems okay, but my book is all plot with one-dimensional characters. I need to develop them more and then I hope I’ll be more invested in the story. I am starting a new project while I figure it out. Much like reading, I feel happier when I have multiple choices.

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  7. Celebrate what you’ve done and don’t beat yourself up for it. I envy where you are, and you’re inspiring me to get there. There’s something (small) to that…

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    • I might be overdoing it if I spend 6 months celebrating a novel I wrote in one month, but I get the gist! I think I’ll dig in here and find my way, but I have to laugh at my rather prolific avoidance techniques.

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  8. Oh. My. God. Am I with you. I finished my novel around this time TWO years ago. I went through a series of editing, but only because I killed two birds with one stone and used said novel as my master’s thesis. And then it sat there for months. THEN I actually went and HIRED someone (it wasn’t cheap either) to critique my manuscript. That was six months ago. I’ve done nothing since.

    There’s a quote from Jeffrey Eugenides, “No matter how many times you’ve done it before, you always start from scratch.” He meant writing of course, and I now believe that this is what I have do–start all over again. Maybe this will work for you as well. However, I came across a book “Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook” by Donald Maas and it’s a TREMENDOUS editing tool. It’s given me hope actually! YOu can’t go wrong if you try it. It pinpoints all the areas that need editing.

    Maybe it give it a try, it’s helped me. Good luck! 🙂 And you’re not alone!

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    • Thanks for the resource tip – I will definitely check it out! I think it has finally come down to me using the skeleton of this novel and essentially re-writing it at a leisurely, non-word counting kind of pace. The Eugenides quote hits the target. I feel like I’ve forgotten what compelled me to write this particular book in the first place and need to start from scratch in a lot of different ways.
      When I think of different life goals, writing a book is one of those goals that provides us with a plethora of opportunities to get hung up. There’s always an excuse not to move forward and until we have a stronger reason TO do it, it doesn’t take much to put it aside.
      Good luck to you as well!

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    • Jae at Litandscribbles.wordpress.com recommends Donald Maas’s book all the time. She has some good tutorial info from writing conferences and some good ‘how to guides for writing.

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  9. I relate to lots of what you wrote here. I am undisciplined and a professional procrastinator. The thing that struck me that you wrote was you have 15 different writing projects on your mind. OMG! That’s me! You are an outstanding writer. I always look forward to reading whatever you write on your blog.

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    • That’s kind of you – you are quite the prolific writer as well! I’m trying to face my procrastination down, but sometimes it’s another word for something else going on. I haven’t figured out what exactly it is with this novel. Maybe later!

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  10. I’ve never done NaNoMo. It’s just not how I write. I’m more the Granny Marathoner, plodding away at it one or two pages a day, every day. And when I don’t feel like writing, I do it anyway, stringing together words that are crap. Those shitty drafts are a road map of what my story *isn’t*. False starts and detours are just as useful and the spot-on dialog. My last novel, I had to scrap the whole last half because I’d followed a false lead. That was fine. More than fine. I found the real story, which was the point all along.

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  11. I’m with you. That manuscript is staring at me, an unbridled mess, but there’s a story buried there, and only I can tell it. Remind yourself that only you can tell that story that’s in your manuscript.

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    • You’re right. I feel protective of it in the sense that I don’t want to abandon it, yet I haven’t found the story that I feel compelled to tell. Writing is the only way there. But coffee first…

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  12. Not talking from experience, but there must be a “button” you can push to get into the “zone” to finish it. One of my best friends is an author with several novels out already and she goes through a similar phase every time – and then little by little it all shapes up, in a year or so. Maybe if you lock yourself in your writing room previously treated for spiders, use head phones and shut off your phone….? I’m still in the dreaming phase. Couple of weeks ago I came up with a great plot, thought about it several days – and then had nightmares about the scenes playing out…I think I need a new plot.

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    • I think, too, I’m a novice, so the prospect of really digging in and working through it is daunting. I’ve also discovered that I need to, as you say, get into the “zone”, by committing to it several hours at a time. Working on it piecemeal means that I never get hooked back into the story and you need that, to really tell the story.

      I haven’t had nightmares about it, but I am definitely wrestling with things in my mind. Characterization is a challenge for me, since I so often want to take the shortest route to the plot. But if a reader is not invested in the characters, they won’t care about the story.

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  13. Well, it’s awesome you’ve written the first draft. It’s way more than I’ve ever been able to accomplish. Some day, one of these days, eventually, hopefully, maybe, I’ll stick to a project long enough to at least get the skeleton of a novel done. (how’s that for dreaming big?)

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    • NaNoWriMo did the trick for me, but it was a challenge. I had the flu the whole writing month and must have churned out several thousand words in the last couple of days just to make the word count goal. It was tough, but I do have the skeleton of a novel to work with. Nothing wrong with dreaming big – that’s where art comes from!

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  14. That’s why blogging was invented – for writers with ADD.
    Keep at it – I hope it morphs into something that you are excited about. Maybe it hasn’t been aging in the dark drawer long enough?

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    • I have to laugh, because that is exactly what blogging has done for me, BUT it has kept me writing!
      Now that I’ve finally started actively thinking and talking about the book again, I feel a sense of hope that all is not lost!

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  15. Not a writer myself, but am very familiar with what I call my monkey brain. I let those distractions go after my focus like M&Ms to my waistline. I can stop, but why?

    It sounds like you have a plot and you want the characters to come to life. What if you write each character to get some meat on their bones. Maybe they’ll begin to interact with each other and will want to drop into your plot. Easy for me to say!

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    • I can focus when I need to, so I suspect my distractions are heightened by my anxiety about making the novel work. It’s so much easier to be distracted by a cat in the lap or birds outside my window than it is to dig in and really work on my story! I’ll keep at it, though – I’m not quite ready to give up. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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  16. My brain is cycling through 15 different writing projects, none of which include my novel. Problem? I’m not sure I want to fix it.

    I know the feeling! Personally, it’s really difficult for me to figure out if the writing project I’m avoiding working on is something I’ve truly lost interest in, or if I’m just scared of it because it’s gotten hard.

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    • It is definitely a quandary. I think since it’s my first novel that I have to be a little more patient to ensure I’m not engaging in classic avoidance, because I’m not sure where to go with the story or characters. I suppose that’s something one figures out with experience and we must simply force march ourselves through the discomfort. Uh, you first….

      Thanks for reading and commenting – it’s clear from the comments that we’re not alone!

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  17. This made me laugh. I’m impressed with anybody who even TRIES to write a novel. How amazing!! And like anything, I guess it takes practice. All this writing is exercise.
    I dreamt a novel last night. I even dreamt about telling somebody the plot outline. It was called ‘Tin Soldiers’ and it was about a group of veterans in a retirement home. They break out and start behaving like they’re at war again. Only this time, they are attacking the community where they live. In my dream, it was all about how they’d been programmed, and were just doing what they’d been programmed to do. It seemed so brilliant, but now the whole idea makes me want to, well, go back to bed.

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  18. Most of my first-drafts are scrapped, and I re-write, using about 10-20% of what I wrote for the first. I’m trying to improve this painful ratio.
    Many times, our first draft is poking in the dark, figuring out the overall shape of the story you mean to tell.
    It seems you have that.
    What helps me on the second draft is sitting down and doing a list of all of my main and major characters. Then, I write 1. Their backstory leading up to the novel’s story, 2. a brief sketch of their personality and appearance, 3. their overall journey/character arc and 4. their relationship with every other main and major character in the story.
    I find this helps me know and understand my characters, to understand what they like and dislike, how the interaction should play out.
    I’d recommend one of two things: 1. Working on something else for a month or two, OR 2. Trying to retell the story in a blank document, without referring to your current draft. Then compare.
    The end of a draft, and figuring out the motivation to do what’s next is always a challenge. However, finishing a draft is an accomplishment by itself.
    Good luck!

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  19. You know, I’m thinking of dedicating November 2013 to editing – I just can’t get to it. It’s like I crossed the finish line and just couldn’t continue. I have written about 10K more words – still need at least another 20K – I’m thinking a two year project is the way to go. Something about that pace and deadline really moved me forward.

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    • I’m waffling at this point. My first novel now seems like drudgery and I have an idea for a fun novel this November. I’ll have to see how far I get with edits. Most writers have multiple projects going on, so I’m trying not to get too hung up on the “finish one thing before you start another” mentality.

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      • That makes a lot of sense actually. Sometimes I paint myself into a corner with my need to complete one thing before moving on. I had thought about how easily I pumped out the first one and had considered doing more planning to get the connections made – to tackle the things that have me stumped now. The summer is a crazy time for me at work and I’m just not motivated

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        • I thought summer would open up my schedule, but that hasn’t happened. Also, my first novel is a fairly grim tale, requiring more emotional depth and less imagination. I’d like to write something more fun and creative, if only to have a breather from the “heavy stuff”. Blogging provides some of that, but I’m getting a little burnt out on that as well.

          And of course, it simply might be procrastination. I used to think that the hard part was getting the words out, but I think once those first steps are made, the harder work still remains – to shape it and make it a cohesive story.

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        • You are so right about that – the harder work remaining. I think the reason I enjoy photography is that i happens in the moment. I paint and make art glass and lots of other things, but the planning seems so tedious at this point in my life. I think I am in the opposite boat – I got the light and funny stuff out easily – the harder stuff is more treacherous ground. I don’t think I have the fiction gene, but I do think fun and light is less draining for sure.

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        • I don’t know if I’m really capable of funny fiction, but I want to find out. My first novel is fiction, but it is dealing with a lot of family issues that I grew up with. It turned out not to be particularly therapeutic, but more compulsory – I had to tell this story before moving on. So, it may simply never be finished, but a bridge to writing things I enjoy.

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        • That’s a good way to look at it. I think that I am in a similar place with my piece – I think what I am working on now is compulsory to moving on, even though it may not be important to a reader.

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