Finishing Requires Finishing

It is really hilarious to have a herding dog. This morning she tried to herd some crows. They laughed at her, she kept bellowing “HEEEEEERD IT!” and I was laughing too hard to step in as soon as I should have. Also, this morning’s three-mile walk was full of squirrel reconnaissance. They kept poking their heads out of shrubs and mumbling into their walkie-talkies. I was concerned, but Miss B gave my fears short shrift. “LET ‘EM COME! I’LL HEEEEERD THEM TOO!”

After the exciting walkies, Miss B is all knackered, with the result that whenever I go into another room she follows me, then flops down heavily with a sigh and stares at me like you’re not gonna make me move again, are you? Poor thing. I didn’t think I could wear out an Aussie, for heaven’s sake.

So I’m settled in with a cuppa and a metric ton of triple-ginger gingersnaps. (I have absolutely, positively no self-control when it comes to these gingersnaps. I will eat a whole tub of them in a day unless I hide them from myself, and sometimes even then.) And it’s time for a Reader Question! I had planned to put this in the podcast (still working on #2, sorry) but it’s probably better to do it here. Today’s question is from Reader Anna C:

I’d like to think of myself as a bit of a writer, although in everything I try to write, I hit a stumbling block after thirty pages or so.

Your blog has helped me immensely over the months but I keep getting stuck at The Hole. I’ve got the idea and a chunk of writing down and it’s very shiny and golden and the style is exactly how I want the rest of the book to go. But then I fall into The Hole and the writing steadily disintegrates from there. The style differs greatly from when I’ve begun and it just seems to get worse and worse.

Your advice so far seems to consist of putting my head down and plodding along and its seeming to work (I set a New Year’s Resolution of at least 1K a day). I was just wondering if there was anything else I could do to help it along, or whether I should just finish the damn thing and work on revisions to get the style right. (Reader Anna C., from email)

Try to consider this idea: perhaps your “style” isn’t changing. Perhaps your perception of your “style” is changing. You may just hit the Slough of Despond part of writing a novel. Every time one sets out to write a novel, there’s the “oooh shiny!” in the beginning, and then, sooner or later, it becomes The Book That Will Not Die No Matter How Many Times You Stab, Slash, Hack, Burn, Or Otherwise Try To Murder It.

The interesting thing about the slog, for me, is that it started out being at the end of the first third of a book. Nowadays, it’s reliably after halfway or at the very latest, two-thirds of the way through that it will hit me. Working through it time and again seems to have inoculated me, at least slightly. Total immunity, I’m afraid, is not really possible.

Your perception of your “style” changing from “golden” to suckage is not unique. This alchemical reaction happens to every writer (indeed, I’d bet money it happens to every artist, no matter the medium) and, like puberty, it’s overwhelming and robs you of perspective. I haven’t found any cure for this. The only thing that helps me is the snarling stubbornness. So it sucks? Fine. I’ll make it be the best suckitude EVER. Take THAT, self-doubt! Nyah!

Not very adult, but it gets me through.

Above all, keep writing. If you have not finished a piece yet, you need the experience of finishing in order to gain some small amount of perspective on the process, and to prove to yourself that you CAN. It wasn’t until my third or fourth finished manuscript that I began to see the pattern and the various ways I would try to trick or sabotage myself out of getting the damn thing well and truly done. Like facing any fear, the first time is often the hardest. Then you know you’ve done it at least once, and you have object proof that the world didn’t end and it perhaps wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be.

When faced with this, I am reminded of something Stephen King had Adrian Mellon, a minor character in IT, say. “It may be a terrible novel,” the writer remarks, “but it will no longer be a terrible unfinished novel.” That’s always stuck with me. Whether the book sucks or not is not important. You can’t hope to get better at writing a complete book without writing complete books, which means finishing. Just try to keep in mind that the perception of your “style” changing and suddenly sucking may not be the absolute truth, and if it is, well, you’ve a better chance at fixing it when it’s seen in relation to the whole, finished story.

Over and out.

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