I'm not someone who stops. I keep going, keep pressing on, keep trying until I've got no other choice but to stop. Or until I pass out because my going usually involves doing too many things at once and staying up too late. But sometimes, especially when you're writing...you have to quit.
This happened to me a week ago. I was at the office, trying to work out another scene I was stuck in, when bam--a Shiny-New attacked. Only this one, wasn't new. It was old; an old idea I thought of months before and didn't write. I had to write it down-and five written pages later, I knew I was in trouble. I knew story wasn't going to shut up. I was so excited because I hadn't felt that way about book three in months. I was excited because I wanted to write this. But then, I couldn't. I was mid-draft. I couldn't just quit writing it and waste four months of my life and 35, 000 words...Could I? Can people do that?
The answer I discovered is yes. In fact, I think sometimes it's the only thing you can do. But I feel like that's one of those things people don't say often. Maybe it's because they want us to keep going, keep pressing, keep trying. And they're right.
Most of the time, we shouldn't quit. If we could quit at any moment then we would quit before we even began, because writing is hard. It's exhausting. If we quit at any moment, we'd never make it the middle--let alone to the end. We'd find someone "better" than us, a stronger story, a brighter Shiny-New, a new character and we'd quit right there. Quitting is not the answer.
But what happens when you're struggling? When it's four months later and only 35, 000 words? Or when you've been stuck in the same spot for a month and writing the story isn't fun anymore--even though you love the idea or the character or the scene on page 57? I know what you're thinking because it's what I used to think it: That will never happen to me.
And then it does.
And crap, crap, crap--what do I do now? Before you "quit" a novel, you should really explore all the options and think it through. For me, I'd debated shelving the book for at least a six weeks before the point of the Shiny-Newish Idea. There are tons of ways to explore other options; these are some that I did.
- Brainstormed. I looked at what I had, what I wanted to do, what it was in my head and what it could be. I wrote down every single possibility. I eliminated and processed and added and took away.
- Re-read. I can probably quote most of this book to you. I read it that much. I knew all the lines, all the places I could expand, all the rough transitions, the pointless scenes and dialogue. Re-reading, outloud and inside your head, is key.
- Asked questions. Based on what I'd brainstormed and re-read, I asked my MC questions. I asked my plot questions. I asked other people question. I even questioned myself. Why were things happening this way and not the other? Why was this important? Do I really need this part to make this story work? What can I make better?
- Tried putting my character in other situations. There's a trick I saying that goes around, "Put someone in another situation and whatever happens will tell you the truth about them." This is even true for characters. I put my MC in other places. In my head and on paper. I took her to the store, had her witness a murder, had her enter a coloring contest (true.) I did this because there was (and is) so much about her I don't have access to. Doing this would unlock those things.
- I talked to some other writers. People who have been there with me throughout the story. Who have heard all my rants, read my awesome scenes, read my crappy ones. Most of them told me to keep pushing--so I did--to take time away--so I did. Then, one friend told me, "You've never said anything positive about writing this book." I was floored, because that was a huge answer. A huge reason I was having so many issues.
The decision for me was pretty easy. Once my friend said that to me, I felt this freedom. And lovelies, it's okay to stop what you are doing. **It's important to note in all this that you should only quit if it's the absolute perfect thing to do. It should never, ever because something is too hard or lost. There are ways around that. Plus, if you quit because it is hard then you will never go anywhere.**
It's like driving. If you're going the wrong way, you need to stop and turn around and go the right way. Sometimes, you have to stop and ask for directions. Sometimes you need a map. Sometimes you stay the night at some hotel because you've gone too far and you need to sleep before you take off again. I think that's okay to do. In fact, it's smarter than forcing a book to be written to that isn't ready.
That's what I was doing---forcing the story--and I didn't even know I was doing that. Since then I've been plotting (YES, PLOTTING. I know. Freak out, right?) the new book. I'm very excited about it. I will someday go back to work on book three. But that time is not now. It may not be for months or years, but someday I will tell that story. This is the right decision for me. Quitting was a good choice.
So, if you are writing something and you are struggling. If showers won't work and long walks at night only make you cold. If you have no more ideas and all your brainstorming is unproductive, don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. Don't be afraid if the answer is "keep going." Maybe the answer lies in a line that you haven't written yet, and maybe the breakthrough lies ahead of the struggle---and don't be afraid if the answer is "Quit." Stopping will not be a waste. EVERYTHING you write has a purpose. The four months and 35K taught me a lot. I was surprised how much I learned, actually. Failed words have a place next to amazing ones and both make you a stronger writer--whether you are still pushing or whether you are shelving an idea.
Sometimes the hardest part about writing--and revising, drafting, plotting--is knowing when to quit.