Last week, I came thisclose to giving up on that memory erasure novel. THISCLOSE.
This would not be the first time I gave up on a manuscript. In fact, it’s always around this part (the middle of Act II) that I contemplate abandoning this piece of shit that has sputtered and stalled towards the end of Act II. Like NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND, I tried dragging it on for a while before admitting to myself that the story isn’t working and that it’s not going to turn out the way I want it to. It’s commonly known as the “dark night of the soul” for writers, where we languish in the pits of inferiority and debilitating self-doubt.
I came across this article recently, How Writers Mourn Their Dead Novels, which perfectly describes what it’s like to have a dying novel in your hands and it’s up to you to bring it back to life.
You’ve spent years falling in love with an idea, working out its intricacies, populating its contours with characters that become like family. And now, after months building it word by word, you have a thick manuscript, mostly finished, that flops about on the desk like a dying fish. “Save me,” says the fish. “I can’t,” you say.
And then it dies.
I’m standing at that point between the flopping and the dying. And as someone whose manuscripts have survived several near-death moments, here are a few tips I can offer to those who are in the same boat as me right now:
1. Keep Your Eyes on the Finish Line
Some days, it feels like you’re never going to finish the damn story. It feels like it will never be done, and that you’re just crawling your way to the end with a boulder tied to your back.
The only reassurance I have – and am clinging on to – right now is the knowledge that I’ve been through this before. I’ve had to contend with several flopping novels on the brink of death before, and somehow managed to salvage. NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND is something I’m sort of proud of (even though it’s still not perfect), partly because it was a manuscript I had almost abandoned but managed to COMPLETE (at last).
Think about what you first set out to do with this story, think about what you’re trying to say. Think about the magic that first inspired you to write the novel, and forge your way towards realising that magic.
2. Enjoy the Ride
Yes, it’s painful.
The whole process of creating something from scratch is like carving out a piece of your flesh with every word you type.
The first draft is ALWAYS shitty. Because that’s when we’re still figuring out the story as we go along, even though we may have plotted it extensively before diving into it. We can never know for sure EVERYTHING that we want to say until we actually say it. So a lot of what we’re saying the first time round comes out garbled and incoherent.
It’s verbal diarrhea.
But it’s the process – that journey towards The End – that makes the destination that much more beautiful, after all. Why else would you want to keep doing it, story after story? Knowing how far you’ve come since page one, seeing how different – better – the finished product looks from your first draft, realising that you somehow managed to find your way to the end eventually makes everything worth it – the blood, the sweat, the tears.
3. Work on Something Else
Instead of tearing your hair out and squeezing your brain dry while you agonise over the WIP that is just not working (which NEVER works for me), maybe a distraction might help to get the writing juices flowing again. No, not Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest.
A Shiny New Idea.
I’ve found that it helps for me to work on another story simultaneously, so whenever it’s going terrible for one you can take a break and turn to the other. Sometimes, you just need some distance between you and your WIP to approach it again with fresh eyes. It usually works, at least for me.
The whole idea is to not lose momentum. Keep writing – another WIP, a short story, a poem (if you’re into that – personally, I make a terrible poet) – and you might just find a diamond in the rough.
4. Time for a Change of Scenery
Artists are anything but drones. We’re human beings who are constantly seeking new experiences, new scenery to reignite that spark.
Which is why my upcoming Beijing trip is well-timed. Not only is it a change of scenery (all! those! palaces!), it also provides a reprieve from REMEMBER, and I can focus on plotting the Oriental-inspired historical fantasy novel I’ve had brewing in my head ever since I watched Sound of the Desert and read Rebel of the Sands. Shiny New Idea, let me give you some loving!
5. Stay Inspired
How do you write a novel when you’re stuck in your own head? Keep reading new stories, watching new stories, listening to new music, and experiencing new things, and never stop asking what if questions to keep the stories coming!
So tl;dr I’m not going to give up on BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU just yet. And if you’re thinking of abandoning your WIP, don’t. Just give it some time and space. It’ll get better. Trust that it will!
By the way, I’ll be in Beijing for a week, so I won’t have access to conventional social media and texting platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp (*cries*). I can, however, still be found on Skype (joyce.chua259) and Instagram (@thewritesofpassage), where I will spam travel photos!
It’s going to be crazy times, y’all! Stay inspired.
Until we meet again,