This Draft Sucks – Part I ends with the following advice: if you think your draft sucks, put it away. Don’t look at it for a month and hope when you return with fresh eyes it won’t suck as badly as you thought.
I do not want to follow this advice. My book has been hanging around for twelve years. I want to finish it. But I force myself to take the month of December off. I tell myself it’s good timing since any other year I would have killed for extra time around the holidays. But this year all I feel is cranky and ungrounded from not writing. I wrap Christmas presents and feel like Santa’s slave elf.
I realize these are problems most people would love to have. I long to rise above them but not writing has turned me into an ungrateful wretch.
The usual neighborhood holiday parties don’t help. I cringe through the small talk questions — How’s your writing? Have you finished that book yet? I mumble something about taking time off from a draft, ashamed that I’ve been talking about drafts for so long no one believes I’ll ever finish a book. I don’t blame them. Right now I don’t believe it either.
The other group of holiday party-goers make it worse. These folks no longer even ask about my work. I am sure they think my whole “writing” thing is just a cover for going to the gym and getting my nails done.
I come home from these parties determined to spend more time on my other career. Actually I long for any career — just not “writer.” Waitress, office worker, lawyer all sound good because all the days those people work count. Why is it that all the days, weeks and years novel writers put in don’t seem to count unless they add up to a published book? I tell myself I’m being paranoid. Not writing has made me crazy.
The obvious solution is to start writing again — especially since I have two other unfinished novels. Duh! But by now I’m too far-gone to realize this.
Toward the end of the month I read a great writing book given to me by Kelly Ford, NI alum extraordinaire, Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver. It’s full of good writing advice but it also tells me to do the very opposite of what I’ve been doing. “Time off is not the way to go,” says Cleaver. By the time you’ve written multiple drafts of a novel there’s no way you’re going to see it with fresh eyes. Plus you run the risk of “losing your edge, your nerve, or getting blocked during the break.” Shit!
Instead, Cleaver encourages writers to go back and analyze each scene for want / obstacle / action. In every scene ask what the character wants, what gets in the way of getting it and what action the character needs to take to get around the obstacle. That sounds good. I will do that when I regain my “edge” and find my “nerve” again.
New Year’s day I make my resolution. I tell my family and friends I’m finishing my book this year. That night I watch a TED talk by Derek Sivers, who admonishes me to do the very opposite. “Do not tell others about your goals!” Talking about goals makes you feel like you’re already half way there and you end up not working nearly as hard as those who keep their goals to themselves. Shit!
I choose Monday, January 5th, as the day to go back to my draft. I cannot wait to start. But as soon as I pick the date, doubts creep in from all corners. I start thinking about other careers again. Monday morning I am very anxious. My mind is mush. I cannot even imagine how to begin. But my son comes down with the flu and, luckily, by Tuesday I have it, too.
A new date is set — the following Monday, January 12. This time I tell myself I am on it. I will do this. I start in. It’s easy to find the want right up front. Thanks to the Novel Incubator, the main character’s WANT is on the first page and the obstacle shows up right behind. The action… hmm… that’s trickier. I obsess about how long it takes for my character to act and also, what should I keep that doesn’t have to do with this want / obstacle / action thing? I am rusty, cranky, anxious and full of doubt. Half-way through my writing time, I long to flee. I think about getting a jump on our taxes. Suddenly this hideous task seems positively irresistible.
The next day I walk the dog before writing and tell myself, Get out of your own way. Just step aside! Show up and let the story guide you. I do this and, of course, have a better writing day. It is so good I’m glowing. I feel like I’ve sprouted wings and can fly. All is well. I can finish. I will finish. I relax for the first time in five weeks.
The next day is not so perfect. I start to despair but stop myself in time and just keep writing. I make some progress. This analyzing for want / obstacle / action is pretty good. I keep going, glad to be writing again. And you know… this draft doesn’t really suck all that much after all.