I’ve read a lot of writing advice in my time. After all, it’s way easier to read advice about writing than to actually sit down and put words on the page. The advice ranges from vague generalities that help nobody, to pieces of advice that are so specific that again, they help nobody. But in between there is actually a lot of good advice out there. If I had to boil it down to a few short sentences, the good advice says:
Read a lot.
Write a lot.
Finish what you start.
I’ve got a good handle on the first one. I read every night before bed, and listen to audiobooks while doing brainless chores and working out. Plenty of people read more than me but I’m happy with the number of books I get through in a year.
I’m working on the second point. I have trouble letting the words just flow onto the page, which is why I do things like NaNoWriMo or bribe myself with rewards to get myself to spend the time writing. So, I’m making progress on this point.
The really tricky part is the last one: finish what you start. Also known as “Write to done.” a.k.a. “Finish your shit.” I’m struggling right now with this one. Specifically, I’m struggling with when to call a project “done” and move on to the next one. I’ve finished NaNoWriMo twice. But surely 50,000 words of verbal vomit don’t count as “done,” right? I’ve been slowly working my way through my last NaNoNovel, editing, patching up missing chapters, missing character and place names, and the like. The problem is, I’m only a third of the way through the dang novel, and I know once I finish this pass, I’ll need to go back and do another pass to flesh out descriptions and character development (my first drafts tend to be very dialog and plot heavy and weak on description and character’s thoughts). Meanwhile, the idea for another novel has come along and is nagging at the back of my mind to be written.
So the question I’m struggling with is: at what point do I decide that I’ve learned what I am going to learn from working on my current work in progress, and it’s time to take those lessons and apply them to a new project? Am I failing to “finish my shit” if I stop working on my current work in progress? Or is it “finished” if I’m starting to lose interest and doubt that it’s worth spending months continuing to edit it?
I don’t know. I think I need to step back and actually read the darn thing as it is, not stopping here and there to fix it, but sit and read it as if it were a book. I suspect that might rekindle some of my interest in it. Editing is so slow that it’s hard to keep the whole thing in mind and stay interested. I am also thinking it might be time to let a few people read at least some of it, so I can get outside opinions on whether it’s worth pursuing or not. I just finished editing Part 1 (approximately the first third), which was the part I wrote before NaNoWriMo. It also was the part that needed the most work. Oddly, now that I am in the NaNoWriMo chapters, the writing is actually better and there is less to fix. I think a lot of this is because (a) the beginning had to do a lot of setting up so that the rest of the story could progress, and (b) I planned out quite a bit of the NaNoWriting ahead of time, so I could write knowing what I was aiming at, and (c) writing so much for NaNo actually helped to counteract my tendency to skip over descriptions and monologue because, hey, those are easy ways to up the daily word count!
So here’s my plan: pause my editing for a while and just read the whole manuscript and see how I like it as a whole. Then, if I’m still unsure about continuing, let a few people read it and give me honest opinions about whether it’s time to start something new or if I have something worth polishing.