Tuesday, May 17, 2011


A (paraphrased) question I see all the time on message boards, in chats and on blogs, and in personal conversations:

“I recently completed a—” (usually first, but not always) “–novel and I’ve been revising and/or editing it for—” (X number of days, weeks, or months) “—and I’m to the point right now where I can’t look at it anymore. I want to take a break and work on—” (usually a brand new work they’ve been thinking about for a while) “—something else. What do you think?”

I think you're nuts.

OK, back up. :)

I've noticed that the majority of the time, the writer in question receives the following advice from others: Sure! Take a break! You deserve it. Go work on your Something Else for a while.

The rest the time, he talks to someone like me. And the answer I give usually isn’t the one he wants.

My Answer:

First of all, it’s always okay to take a break. Some writers burn out more quickly than others. After spending weeks and months revising, rewording, slashing, adding, and agonizing whether you’re making your story better or worse, it might be a good idea to step away for a while. However, keep in mind that, if you do step away, that first step immediately lands you on a very slippery slope.

This is why. Ask yourself the following questions:

What are the chances you WILL go back to that manuscript? How many previously unfinished projects do you have under your belt? Not necessarily writing projects. What is your history of following up on things? Because it's hard to believe you've gotten that far in your manuscript, and now you’re willing to quit because you’re tired of the work.

How many people do you know who have two, three, ten, or twenty unfinished manuscripts stashed in a drawer? Do you know why they have all those unfinished manuscripts? Because they either got bored with them, or because they realized too late how much mental labor (and time) is involved in thoroughly and effectively transforming a first draft into a final draft that's ready to to be shared with an agent or editor.

Are you serious about being published? Remember, writing is a profession. Some people write full-time, some part-time, some every now and then. Regardless of how often they're published, those who are successful begin a project and follow it through to the end. They don’t stop and start. They don’t jump from one thing to another to another, leaving a trail of unfinished projects in their wake.

Writing is a business, and a highly competitive one at that. It’s hard to break into, but obviously not impossible. You have to stop thinking like an amateur and start thinking like a pro, whether or not you’ve sold anything before. Otherwise you might as well resign yourself to writing as a hobby—which is fine, of course, if that’s all you want, and all you expect of yourself.

So aside from a brief break to regroup your thoughts, maybe do some brainstorming, or veg out in front of the TV with bonbons for a few hours—please, stop whining and go finish your manuscript!


Mry Jhnsn said...

Such good advice... and not just fro writing :)

Dawrei said...

Thank you. It can be so motivating to actually have someone tell you (even if it's not personal) to just keep going. I think I will link to this post in my own blog :)