“A book itself threatens to kill its author repeatedly during its composition,” Michael Chabon writes in the margins of his unfinished novel “Fountain City” — a novel, he adds, that he could feel “erasing me, breaking me down, burying me alive, drowning me, kicking me down the stairs.”
- From the New York Times article: “Why Do Writers Abandon Novels?” By Dan Kois
That quote from Michael Chabon pretty much sums it up, but I feel a brief announcement is in order for those of you who have taken an interest in my writing (and I thank you for that).
I’m abandoning my book after 4 years and 2 months. Yup. 4 hours a day, 7 days a week, 4 years, and I’m chucking it. Why am I chucking it? I’m not sure how to answer that. Summarizing with “it just isn’t working” wouldn’t be adequate, and to explain all the reasons could fill a book of its own.
But it’s the right decision. And I feel awful because of it.
I’m sure, in a week or two, I’ll feel better. Intellectually, I know it’s the right thing to do. I’ve been paddling a boat full of holes for over a year now, and I’ve exhausted myself trying to keep afloat. Plot problems upon plot problems upon plot problems just, finally, became too much to bear. Future projects continued to be delayed. My morale plummeted.
After I passed the time it took to write Gasher Creek (3 years, 6 months), it became clear that something was very wrong. As of today, there is no end in sight for the current book. I’d probably still be trying to plug plot holes well into next summer.
But there is some good news. Now that this project is finished, my future output should begin to increase. Last year, I made two major changes to my writing: first, I discovered a new writing style that is frenetic, fun, and removes some of the old stylistic errors that have consistently slowed my editing process.
Second, I studied plotting and decided that my previous “pantsing” method was eating too much time. Last summer, I tried plotting a western novella as an experiment. Wow, did the first draft roll out smoothly.
As a result of these changes, I foresee future novels taking months, not years, to finish. That’s both exciting and a relief. Burnout is a very real threat to writers, and one I hope I can avoid (or at least reduce) from now on.
Did this experience sour me to writing? No. I love it more today than when I first started. Perhaps it’s the writing process itself that has allowed me to deal with this defeat. Writing is a continual slog of “one step forward, two steps back.” Failure is a natural, everyday part of it.
We punch, we get punched. We get knocked down, we get up again.
Time to get up again.