Writer's Block,  Writing Inspiration,  Writing Life

Picking a Story and Sticking With It

Hi Lizard! I love writing but I have this problem where I can’t stop and focus on one story at a time. I have a million ideas that I want to start working on right away. Do you have any advice on how I should focus on just one story?

One thing that most a lot of very experienced novelists say to new writers is, “finish your drafts.” I can’t say that I’ve had enough experience or expertise in this particular area, but I think there’s something to it.  Start a project and finish it. It’s more than you would have had had you flitted on to the next story idea.

I know there’s something to it. Novels aren’t usually quick projects. They take endurance and can be very trying. It can be so tempting to toss your novel aside. But that isn’t going to help you finish it.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from writing short stories, it’s that drafts are only just drafts. If I finish a draft, I can work with that draft to make it better. I can clean it up, tighten the story, heighten the conflict, and make it something I’m really excited about. A draft is just a foundation to build upon.

“I am hating every word. Can I start over?”

Novels are a lot of effort and I don’t know about you, but sometimes I seek out people who will tell me it’s okay to just stop working on a novel idea and start something new. It’s in some ways a form of self-sabotage. I know that I don’t want to start over, but I’m looking for an easy way out. I find the people who will tell me to take it.

While in some cases, maybe the story you’re writing is going in the wrong direction. Maybe it’s not working and it’s not going to work, regardless, you’re not finishing your draft. It’s a sticky situation and there isn’t exactly a right answer. The only thing I can say is try your best to finish what you start.

“I didn’t start over and I figured it out.”

Sometimes a novel might really not be working, but as you write, eventually you figure out a direction that you really like and somehow it works again. It might not be the story you set out to write, but it’s exciting and interesting. This is something that can happen too.

It might mean abandoning your long-term plan for the plot and running with whatever is working in the scene you’re writing and following that line of conflict through to the end. I’ve used this tactic to finish so many drafts. And what do you know, that’s a major improvement. I look back on these drafts and though they need work, there’s a place to start.

Ideas for fixing the story come easy and the act of revision – oh, I love revision. It’s the most fun form of procrastination when you’re tinkering with a first draft. But once you finish a first draft, revision is less of a form of procrastination, and more like a way to keep writing and refining the novel. It has a shape but it’s still not done. I can go on about revision, but I won’t – that’s another topic for another time.

The question of sharing your work

The last thing I wanted to touch on briefly is the controversy around sharing or talking about your novel with others. So, after my experience, I don’t share. I don’t tell people what I’m working on until its in revision. I won’t give any information away because whenever I do, I swear I jinx it. I need to figure the story out on the page instead of in my head. I need to write it from start to finish and then unpack it.

Some writers can talk all about their novels and still write them beautifully. I’m happy for them, I really am. I envy them a little. But really, the affliction I have with talking about my ideas seems to be pretty wide-spread.

If you’re someone who bores of an idea after talking about it too much, learn the lesson. Don’t talk about it. I hint that I’m working on something. I can suggest it, but I can’t show it too much. If I’m going to talk about writing, I talk about short pieces that are in revision stages. I know those stories and I know how to work on them. Talking about them won’t ruin it for me and won’t hurt something that’s still new and in development.

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