Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This is About Your WIP (you know the one I mean)

There’s a file on my hard drive called fivemurder. It was created in 2006. Three apartments ago and at least four computers. But this file hangs on, showing up in later permutations as Gone and GoneDraft2. Both of those were last modified about 15 months ago. Unlike other WIPS on my computer, I haven’t forgotten a single detail of this story. I still remember exactly where I was when the story first occurred to me, I still remember why I named the characters what I did, and how excited I was to write it, and even what I planned to write. Right now, it’s about 33,000 words. It’s been about 33,000 words since early 2007.

I’ve revised those 33,000 words several times. Every six months, I feel an itch in the back of my brain to dig it out and work on it again. The worst part? It’s good. It’s a good idea and some of the writing isn’t bad. No, I lied. I wish that was the worst part. I wish that was my greatest problem in life. The worst part is that the idea is good and I’m not good enough to write it.

Says who?

I don’t know. Says me. At least, that’s what I feel like every single time I try to work on it. I have this concept in my head of what it could be--what it should be--but no idea of how to get to that point. No, of course I know how to get to that point. It’s the same for every novel, every short story, every project, everything. You chip away at the fucker until it’s done. Pardon my coarse language, but it’s the only word that fits. You write one draft, and if that doesn’t work, you write a second. You revise it. You write a third. You revise it twice. You write a fourth. You set it aside for two years and try to save your sanity. You return to it. You do it again if you have to.

When I find a task to be too overwhelming, I avoid it. I go into complete avoidance mode, shutting it out of my mind and my concerns until it pushes back and wiggles inside. I’m excited then. I make an effort. Until the self-defense mechanism kicks in and it’s almost always stronger. After nearly three decades of working out, it’s THE big kid on the block. Nothing can resist its awesome power, especially when it’s time to clean house. So out the WIP goes for another six months and I continue on with my life.

If that sounds at all familiar, then you need to join with me to stop doing that! We’re better than that--not to mention our WIPs. They’re probably pretty damned good and they deserve a chance to be part of the world. If you have a file languishing in the corner of your computer, dig it out, blow off the dust and the cobwebs and find the thread of the narrative again. At least do yourself the favor of re-reading it. There’s no greater gift a writer can give herself than to discover an old piece of work, read it, and realize it’s not half bad.

Image thanks to Настя on Flickr.com

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