Today, we get some good advice from Jennifer Slattery. She writes soul-stirring fiction. She also writes for several Internet sites. Take it away, Jennifer.
“This story stinks,” I say, as I close my computer and stomp toward the kitchen—to make myself a giant bowl of ice cream.
“You say that every time,” my husband answers.
“No. I mean, really, it stinks. Like bad.”
“So fix it.”
And then I sigh, stomp some more—into the bedroom this time, lugging my ice cream with me.
Only to return to my computer the next day, determined to push through.
My daughter, an artist, says every painting goes through an ugly phase.
The same is true for writing. I’m convinced every literary work goes through an awkward, ugly phase as well. And it’s during that phase the temptation to give up, to walk away, to close one’s computer and never return again, becomes the strongest. Or at the very least, to walk away from that story to begin another. Then another, then another, abandoning countless novels to their awkward, middle-school years.
When the stories are but a few rewrites away from awesome.
Because I believe every story is fixable, and many times, it’s during the fixing that we learn and grow the most.
Conversely, I believe it’s in the walking away that we lose the most, because the more we walk away from a tough or frustrating story, the easier it becomes to do so again. I’ve encountered so many writers who’ve accumulated a dozen or more novel starts but absolutely zero finishes. I’ve also encountered authors who’ve spent years, decades even, working on that one novel.
Neither approach is helpful.
Early in my career, I made a commitment to finish absolutely every project I undertook. No matter how much I hated it. This has led to countless tears and headaches, but also many celebrations when, after hours upon hours of revising, the final story has taken shape and I can, with peace and contentment, close my computer and walk away.
That doesn’t mean the story’s perfect. I’ll never write a perfect novel, regardless of how many times I revise. In fact, I might absolutely hate the end product, but at least I finished it. That’s something to celebrate, right?
Which leads me to my next commitment, which involves setting and sticking to time-frame plans. Before I begin a novel, open my day planner and determine how many words I want to write a day. Then, adding in some days for life-happens buffers, I determine when the novel must be completed. I do the same for my edits, determining how many pages I want to edit a day and therefore, how many days it will take me to edit. Again, I add in some life-happens (or plot unravels) buffers.
But even so, I write in an end date.
Because I don’t want to write a book. I want to be a novelist, which means I need to learn to push through when life, and my story, gets tough. I need to learn when to revise and when to walk away. And most importantly, I need to grow my perseverance, making sure to always, always, always finish what I start.
Even if I hate the end product. Because I’m vehemently opposed to the alternative—a computer full of first chapters but void of “the ends”.
What about you? Do you make a point to finish the writing projects you start? Why or why not? Do you have any tips you can share for pushing through a literary work’s “ugly phase”? Share your suggestions and ideas with us, because we can all learn from one another.
JIM: Good advice, Jennifer. We’ve all said “This story stinks.” You’ve helped us deal with that. Leave a comment with your suggestions for pushing through a literary work’s “ugly phase.”
Here’s a blurb on her latest novel, Intertwined.
Abandoned by her husband for another woman, Tammy Kuhn, an organ procurement coordinator often finds herself in tense and bitter moments. After an altercation with a doctor, she is fighting to keep her job and her sanity when one late night she encounters her old flame Nick. She walks right into his moment of facing an unthinkable tragedy. Because they both have learned to find eternal purposes in every event and encounter, it doesn’t take long to discover that their lives are intertwined but the ICU is no place for romance….or is it? Could this be where life begins again?
You can find it at: