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It is okay not to finish (at the moment).

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I am sure I’m not alone in this.

Sometimes you just can’t finish a project.

You hit a wall. You lose the thread. A character doesn’t follow the plot line you have carefully constructed for them.

I’m sure it happens to artists and musicians also.

As a writer you normally do two things.

First, you give up; thus proving that you probably aren’t really good enough to be a writer after all. Second, you become belligerent and try and force the character, or plot, into fitting into the shape you created for it.

I’ve done both.

But, more recently, I’ve been learning there is a third way.

And it is easier than the other two.

You just close the notebook or electronic file and open up a new one.

Then, every now and again, let your creative mind wander back to the project and see if anything new occurs to you.

Let me give you an example.

I will call the project White Ladder.

White Ladder started with an image of two old men talking in a room one evening. They see a news clip of a new movie actress wowing audiences. It turns out that one of the men knew her mother.

That image and about 400 words, of mostly dialogue, was over 20 years ago.

It just never got past that initial stage.

A couple of years ago I heard a radio programme which focused on particular musicians and their defining albums. They played some of the songs and talked about the inspirations and processes of making the albums.

The one I listened to was David Gray, talking about his album White Ladder.

Suddenly that image of the two men talking came back to me and a variation on the theme started to form, energised by the words and mood of David Gray’s album.

The plot line was now dictated by the titles of each of the tracks on the album and the mood set by, often, just one line of the lyrics.

I don’t usually plan. I am a pantser by trade.

A couple of weeks of looking back at the plot line then led me to open up a project on Scrivener and start putting words on the page.

74,428 words later I stalled. I was at the three-quarters finished stage.

The two main characters had not followed the plot line and were all out refusing to do so.

I huffed and puffed and threatened to delete them, but they knew I was bluffing. So I gave them the cold shoulder for about six weeks. It turned out they were more patient than me.

So I took a key idea from within the project and tried to write the story from that perspective instead.

That was good for 34,149 words. Then the plot line decided not to follow the original plot I had carefully conceived. The two main characters waited patiently on the street they were walking, looking at me, waiting for me to make a decision.

I now had the word count of a full length novel, but three-quarters and one-quarter of the same story in two versions.

Dust gathered on both versions. Apart from reworking the whole plot into a series of ten short stories, telling the story from the perspectives of different characters.

I think I got that idea from Patrick Gale and his fantastic book Notes from an Exhibition.

Dust still gathers.

I know this story will be finished, because it keeps tapping on the door of my creative studio, reminding me that it is still there.

But in not finishing White Ladder (yet!) I have learnt a lot.

I have learnt that one simple scene will eventually become a full story if you wait long enough.

I have devised a story plot three different ways.

I have 108,000+ words of writing practice, which will eventually be a finished novel.

I have learnt to be patient with myself.

I haven’t failed because the book isn’t completed.

It’s okay not to finish – for the moment!

 

By Herbie

Writer, Christian, Husband and Father.

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