It’s no secret that Bradbury was one of my literary heroes. His book, Zen in the Art of Writing, is the subject of my first blog post on Surly Muse. He’s high on the list of authors I quote most often. Zen is one of the few writing books I re-read, almost yearly, to rekindle the fires of inspiration. Bradbury shaped my entire way of thinking when it comes to writing.
There are others far more capable of recounting his legendary influence, so I won’t attempt to recap his lifetime of achievement here.
I will only say this.
As writers, we yearn to touch the lives of others, to give of ourselves in the hope that our words will have some effect — on the world, on the market, on a single soul — and in the giving, we are ourselves enriched and made whole. No one understood this like Bradbury, who said: ” if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic.” He embraced the joy and necessity of writing, of the frantic need that drives us all to put words on the page, and the power those words can have.
Ray, I owe you more than I could ever possibly repay. Possibly everything. You will be missed.
One passage in particular from Ava’s piece stuck out to me:
You need to understand that if you really want to be a writer, you’ll need to go through this process many many times. And sometimes you’ll get tired. And sometimes you’ll get bored. And sometimes you’ll wonder if you’re wasting your time with your current WIP and if you should start on something else or if you’ll really be able to survive a couple rounds of revision.
In the past, I’ve been rather infamous for starting new writing projects mid-stream. I’d start a story, get to the middle act, then find something new. I’d finish a draft, then let it sit while I started something else. As recently as this year, I’ve found myself vacillating between projects, trying to decide which one was “right,” starting new things, while finishing nothing. Eventually, all forward momentum ground to a halt while I waffled so hard you could have poured syrup on me and served me at iHop. For cannibals. Serving meat waffles. I used to play bass for the Meat Waffles. Look, nevermind.
A Problem of Perspective
Sometimes there are perfectly valid reasons for abandoning a writing project. Often there are perfectly valid reasons for swapping that project out for a new one. But if you find yourself creatively stalled while you try to juggle two or more projects in the air, maybe it’s time to stop and think about why you’re juggling and not, you know, writing.
Finishing is Fear-Inducing
Finishing a novel can be scary as hell. Yes, there’s the rush of satisfaction and accomplishment you get from writing THE END, too often followed by crushing doubt and insecurity. Finishing closes a door. It makes a commitment. It says “okay, that’s the best I can do” — whereas shoving an unfinished piece of writing in a drawer says “well, maybe I can do better later.” And that’s perfectly valid, assuming later ever comes.
But an unfinished work can take on its own sort of romance, if we let it. A mediocre book is just a mediocre book, but an unfinished, unwritten work of unalloyed genius, well, that’s a joy forever, isn’t it? But if you’re serious about being a writer, I suspect you don’t want your body of work to consist entirely of imaginary books.
Starting is Sneaky
On the other hand, starting a new writing project is often its own kind of rush. It can become an addiction. A new project doesn’t have the plot snarls, impenetrable character motivations, structural issues, and glaring flaws of that work-in-progress. Sometimes, when we find ourselves facing a mountain of difficult work, it can be so much more appealing to just go build another mountain, convinced that Mount Totally-Awesome won’t face those same problems.
Maybe that’s the right decision. Maybe you get midway through a book and find out it’s truly unworkable — but maybe you’re just being lazy. In case no one’s told you (today), writing is hard work. Writing a novel can be a true-blue bitch-kitty. Abandon a story if you truly feel you must, but don’t do it to dodge the work.
Perfection is Persnickety
As writers, we thirst to have our writing soar, to transcend, to change lives. No one sets out to make a dull and mediocre book — we set out to make the best damn book we can write (or at least, I sure hope so). Facing down a book’s flaws can be nerve-wracking.
Sometimes it’s easier to put a book away, hoping that it will somehow sort itself out while it’s sitting in the drawer. You know, you’re sleeping soundly, and all of a sudden the little pages start coming to life, marching across your desk while Night on Bald Mountain plays and sentient fountain pens scrawl heartbreaking passages in flawless calligraphy. How’s that coming along for you? I can’t seem to get it working no matter how much peyote I take.
Nothing’s perfect. Your novel’s going to have flaws. And ultimately, that’s for the best. Because if it didn’t, that’d mean you’re either as good a writer as you’re ever going to get, or it’s all downhill from here. And who wants that? Embrace imperfection. Face it. Accept it. Do the best work you can.
Leave that unfinished book in the drawer for awhile if you need to, but do so with the knowledge that its problems will still be right there when you return.
Resist the Resistance
Not all works-in-progress are reedeemable. Some deserve to be abandoned. Maybe they’re flawed in ways too big to fix (or ignore). Maybe a better idea really has come along. Maybe you’ve decided you don’t want to tell that particular story after all. These are all fine and good. If you’re going to abandon an existing project for a new one, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.