Committing to a Writing Project

On Tuesday I came clean about my version of writer’s block—too afraid to write. I started yesterday by tackling some of the jobs that have been hanging over me and cluttering my brain. As I eased out from under the load, I felt less paralyzed, but honestly, I considered backing out of going to the conference. Except, I’ve already paid.

OK, so I’m going. I prayed. I know others did too. And a friend of mine reminded me about writing during my optimum thinking time. For me, that’s morning—usually my blogging time.

Today I switched that and worked on one of the projects I’d hoped to take with me to the conference. Except, I still don’t know. I sent off some pages to another writer for some feedback with the idea that if it’s no good, maybe I’ll can the idea.

Then I read a part of Randy Ingermanson’s blog post about goals. He said there are two necessary things if you want to complete a project: define it and commit to it.

The “commit” part seemed applicable to my circumstances. Here’s the pertinent passage:

Second, you commit to writing that particular book. Commitment means that you won’t quit when things get hard (they will). You won’t quit when your critique buddies find flaws (they will). You won’t quit when the agents say they’re not interested in that particular book (they will). You won’t quit when the editors say no (they will). You won’t quit when the substantive editorial letter comes back with 20 pages of requested revisions (it will). Commitment means that you’re in all the way. Commitment means that you work on the book until one of two things happen — either you realize that the book is fatally flawed, or you finish the book.

My question is, How do you know when a book is “fatally flawed”? If I can’t finish, have I quit or have I recognized it is fatally flawed? And who’s to say it is fatally flawed? Not agents or crit buddies or editors, it would seem.

And if it’s up to me, how will I know? I can’t judge by it being too hard or because I’m not getting the responses I hoped. So what should be my the measure I use to judge “fatally flawed”?

Unless … Maybe there should be only one thing—I’m all in until I finish. Not, until I finish or …

Something to think about.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 Comments

  1. Do you think the people who made Hollywood’s biggest flops knew that when they were making the movie? If so, why waste the millions it took to produce it?

    At the same time, do you think they knew they had a best seller? Not really, it’d have come out a long time ago.

    You don’t have a fatally flawed anything until its finished. >.< Horrible, isn't it?

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  2. I can so relate to this, Becky. The questions remain the same. Over and over again. Pick someone who “gets” you as a writer. Someone whose taste in writing is similar to yours, who likes your genre, whose a reader as well as a writer–or maybe just a reader. See if they’ll look over the ms. and give you feedback.

    If you’re not passionate about the piece, if you don’t believe in the story, and wouldn’t want to read it if it belonged to someone else: bag it. If the opposite is true: go for it. Dig in. Commit. Don’t rate it by “the rules” or any other criteria. Rate it by your heart’s desire for the story itself.

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  3. Sure there’s writer’s block and it should not be underrated. However I think we sometimes overlook the spiritual battle when it comes to writing particular books. About 27 years ago, I had an idea for a story. As I drove to and from work, I made up heady passages of dialogue for this story – but when I got home and sat in front of a computer, I couldn’t get a single sentence out. Every line would crumble in my mind as I tried to type it. I could write anything I liked except this story. After several years, I decided it was sufficiently important to me to seek psychological help to get it out.

    After 27 years and many struggles and disappointments, this fantasy is about to be published. In that time, I’ve seen my fresh and original ideas used by other writers, I’ve seen the unusual names I’d chosen become famous in other hands and I’ve given up twice. Ultimately, it’s not about fatal flaws. At the beginning of last year, I dusted off the manuscript once more, not because I had hope for it, but because one day I’ll have to account for my talent. Like the man who buried his talent in the ground, I realised I’d buried my best writing at the back of a deep shelf. This is not so much about commitment as about the fact I realised I’d never be able to think up a decent enough excuse for why I hadn’t tried again.

    It was so much easier to give in, than give up!

    Annie

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  4. Good perspective, Annie.

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  5. Hi Becky:
    I started my first book in 1988 and worked on it for 2 and a half years. Then after getting some critiques from a writing buddy of mine, I realized the book was fatally flawed–it was way too long. It would have been about 1200 pages if I finished it.

    So I abandoned it. But I didn’t abandon the Storyworld. I just chopped off a smaller chunk of the story and worked on that for a while. That was still too big, and after a few months, I realized that and chopped it down again.

    That book turned out to be manageable in size. I finished it. It was a decently written book and I found an agent and tried for years to sell it. I never did. An editor at Bethany House told my agent three things that they considered show-stoppers on the book.

    At that point, I realized that I had a book idea in my files that DIDN’T suffer from any of the show-stoppers that Bethany House had identified. I started working THAT SAME DAY on the new book.

    Eventually I sold that book. It was my first novel, TRANSGRESSION, and it made a bit of a splash. I never considered the earlier books failures. They didn’t sell, and some of them were fatally flawed, but they were necessary steps I had to take in order to write the book that did sell.

    Abandoning one particular book is not the same thing as abandoning writing.

    Randy

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  6. I feel heartsick as I read these comments.

    Is a book fatally flawed when it’s too long? The book that I refer to above – the one that took 27 years to find a publisher – has that exact problem. From time to time, an editor would take a serious interest in it but would eventually pass with the comment “too long”. If I’d come to believe that the book was fatally flawed because of that, I would have destroyed it, not hidden it at the back of a deep shelf.

    I got the proof last week. It’s 307 pages. That’s not especially long (though it is exceptionally lengthy here in Australia for an emerging author, particularly when we’re talking YA fantasy).

    There were two points in the process where I gave up on the work entirely before hauling it out early last year with the sudden conviction that I have to account for the “buried talent” that went into it. One time I gave up was when I realised that to get it published I would have to gut it of those elements that referred to faith.

    Here in Australia we don’t have even a handful of Christian publishers who will even look at fiction, let alone publish it. Generally speaking, we have to look outside to an ordinary publisher. Now I thought about the price for a long time and decided it was too high. Sure I could probably get myself a successful career as a writer but not at the cost of taking out the elements of Christianity in the story.

    To me, commitment is not about writing but about the story. I think it’s something akin to what Madeleine L’Engle meant by “serving the work.” There’s plenty of things I’ve written in the meantime but I don’t believe that most of them ever called for my commitment. One or two did. Maybe I’m just too picky. I look at people who have writing ideas and admire them – but don’t have the slightest desire to emulate them. What I want is far more ambitious than an idea; I want inspiration. I believe there is a difference and that it is when we have a sense of inspiration that we should be committed to the project, however long the road, however many the knockbacks.

    Annie

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  7. Thanks for all the input. Randy, I especially appreciate your answer since your post spurred the question. From what you said, it sounds like you agree with A. M. Kuska that the book can’t be deemed fatally flawed until it IS finished.

    That’s what I’ve been thinking. Plus, I don’t think we can make the determination because God delights in making something out of nothing, felling a giant by the hand of a youth, routing an army with 300 and so on. So what looks to us like a no-chance project might have every chance, if God so orders it and ordains it. Seems to me obedience is the thing I need to concern myself with.

    Annie, I will say, about length, that more than one professional has said publishers prefer between 80,000 and 100,000 words, though fantasy can be longer. One agent told me that my third book which I estimated at 150,000 would not sell (which is why my trilogy is now a quatrain—I divided the third book, and it’s much better for it).

    If I’d known what I know now those first years of my writing, I would have done a lot differently (not tried to break in with an epic fantasy trilogy). But I believe God took me on the path He wanted for me—still is.

    He takes us all where He knows we need to go and that is rarely the same place our writer friends are going. I think of Peter walking with Jesus after His resurrection and asking about John. Jesus pretty much answered him, None of your business, you go do what I tell you to do. That’s the way I think we have to live as Christians writing in these transitional times.

    Becky

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  8. Neat perspectives. I like the idea of Jesus telling Peter to do what he says. For more perspectives, especially with the recent interview with Bryan Davis, bestselling fantasy author, check out my blog at http://writebig.wordpress.com/. I have to say, though, I can learn more than a few things from this blog.

    Brayden Hirsch
    http://writebig.wordpress.com/

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