There are two types of writers: those who have started at least one project and quit, and liars.
Before Dawn of Endings (working title), I had never finished a story idea. I would get these images in my mind: scenes, conversations, characters, and I would write them down in beautiful prose. I loved it so much. But then I’d hit a wall and that excitement would be replaced with discouragement.
So when we typed THE END on the final page of Dawn of Endings, it made me wonder. What made this story different than all those other stories? Was it simply a better concept? Was it because I was writing with Matti? These variables most likely had something to do with why this project got finished and the others didn’t, but in reality, the determining factor was this:
We chose not to quit.
Could I have been any more obvious and unhelpful? Probably. But I’ll try not to.
The thing is, Dawn of Endings really wasn’t all that different from any of the other story ideas I have had in the past. It has a premise that excites me, characters I’ve loved getting acquainted with, and a spectacular setting. I also hit dozens of road blocks, plot holes, and long bouts of lack of inspiration.
Usually that was when I would quit.
But there was something about this story that never left me. Even during the weeks where parenting consumed every single brain cell by breakfast, our story was the last thing I thought of when I fell asleep and the first thing I thought of when I woke up.
Every day for two years.
You see, writing ideas are a lot like relationships. They are new and thrilling and titillating at first, then over time you start to notice the flaws and challenges.
So this leaves you with two options: chase your every fancy ’til you give up on the pursuit entirely, or commit and work through the challenges.
Here are 5 tips Matti and I have learned from writing our first successful manuscript:
1. Quit focusing on what’s not working.
If you’re hung up on a plot hole— or even a few paragraphs of description that aren’t conveying what you need it too (story of my life!), chances are you’re going to dwell on it. And dwell.
And dwell. . .
Eventually impostor syndrome will slide into your thoughts like a slimy piece of seaweed caressing your leg and whisper a slew of insults into your ear with his hot, damp breath. Don’t leave that door of opportunity open for him even an inch. All he needs is a toe in the door and he has you.
If you can’t think of a solution after giving it a considerable amount of thought (you’ll know you’ve thought on it too long when the frustration and/or despair creeps in), [put the gist of your problem in brackets and move on.] Follow your inspiration, or at least tackle a much easier scene so you can keep your confidence up.
2. Do something else for a while.
If inspiration is lacking, step away from the computer for a little while. Read a book, take a shower, go for a walk, just don’t give in to the temptation to dwell. Instead, listen to the rhythm of the prose in your book, or pay close attention to the feeling of the shower water hitting your skin. Massage your scalp (you’ll be surprised to discover how much tension you hold there) or use a loofah. If you’re going on a walk, listen to the sound of the birds. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, or how your body shivers in the crisp air. Watch how the neighbor cat slinks under a bush. Let the rhythm of the world tap into your subconscious and reignite your inspiration.
3. Allow yourself to perform less than perfectly.
Perfection poisons creativity. Speaking as a hypocritical perfectionist myself, if you believe your perfectionism is helpful, get that thought out of your head. Because like any relationship, neither you nor your story will ever be perfect.
Our need to be perfect stems from fear. Fear of criticism, fear of rejection, fear of not being enough, etc. These fears are toxic to creativity. Shakespeare, Stephen King, J. R. R. Tolkien, Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood; all of these authors are considered some of the most iconic writers in history, yet each and every one one of them is loathed— or at lease met with indifference by one group or another. So take comfort in knowing you’re in good company.
Speaking of company, this is another good reason why it is so crucial to find an uplifting writing community. Find people to give you encouragement and help you hone your craft. If you start feeling sorry for yourself, its always helpful to have someone to knock some sense into you.
Tell yourself you will perform imperfectly, then lean into it. These mistakes are the stepping stones to success. If that idea is still too debilitating for you, keep a journal of your small successes and lavish yourself with praise. Otherwise, your need to be flawless will rob you of your creativity and progress.
4. Recognize your signs of quitting.
Take note of what was going on around you and in your head the last time you quit a project (or are about to quit). What were you feeling? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? Bored? Was your job taking up too much of your attention? Was your baby teething and had skipped every nap for 3 days in a row? Solidarity, friend. Solidarity. Knowing what triggers you to quit will help you be proactive in preventing it.
5. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
And like any other relationship, it is healthy to know when you need to quit. Not every story needs to be completed. Sometimes the timing isn’t right. Neil Gaiman said in his masterclass he had a story idea he was really passionate about but realized he was not skilled enough as a writer to pursue it. So he shelved it. For ten years.
Other times, you realize your idea doesn’t stand well enough on its own. This is why its a good idea to save your ideas in one place so you can look back on them and see if any of them can be combined to make a stronger story.
Writing a novel is hard. It takes research, tenacity, and patience. Oh, and tears. So many tears. Don’t waste your time on a story that doesn’t light your passion and set your soul on fire. But when that passion comes, don’t abandon it either.
Do you have a hard time sticking to a project? What are some ways you’ve found that help you finish even when it gets difficult? Let me know in the comments below!