Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shelving and Completing

Hiding in drawers are the pages of several never completed manuscripts by yours truly. I've opened those drawers, peeked at the unfinished writings, and sighed as I closed the drawers up again. They have the look of a road ending at a chasm that spirals down into the darkest abyss of authorial hell.

Shelved projects aren't a bad thing. I imagine most authors have one or two (or many)lingering in their own hiding places. As an author grows in their craft, some of those lifeless manuscripts can be resurrected into something great. But if they never do, it's okay to have a few unfinished manuscripts.

Contrary to the above statement, I am always encouraging new writers to persevere with what they've got. Just FINISH it! My advice to writers is for them to just get it done.

Where is the balance between just getting it done and knowing when to shelve?

For me, it's when I'm bored. I'm bored with the characters, the plot, the whole thing. When the book holds no interest for me as the author, I feel safe to assume it will become a new prescription for curing insomnia if I let it out into the public. That is when I print it out, and put it away where no one will find it.

And yet, I still think it's important to finish one book. You cannot make a career of shelving. You have to finish one simply to prove to yourself that you CAN. It's an amazing moment when a writer reaches "the end" of their first book. It's a sacred rite of passage from writer to author. So I don't recommend shelving until you've actually proven you can carry a book to completion.

I maintain that nothing we write is ever wasted. Every verse of terrible poetry and line of absurd dialogue carries us closer to the writers we will someday be. All of my hidden uncompleted work served as my education process. I can look in those drawers and say, "This is where I found my voice, my rhythm, myself."

This post today is because I have a friend with countless uncompleted manuscripts hiding in his secret places. He's never finished a book. He's been at it for eighteen years--long enough to raise a child to adulthood. And I want to scream at him, "Just get it done!!!!!!" (and yes, with that many exclamation points). In fact, I did tell him he needed to stop dabbling and jump in. His response was to remind me that I told him it's okay to shelve products when you know they aren't going anywhere. Oh the agony of being quoted out of context.

It's okay to know when a book isn't going anywhere and it's time to walk away. But if you're finding yourself always walking away, you'll miss the magical moment of completion, that moment when you step from the world of merely writing to the world of actually authoring.

Be picky about what you're writing later. There's lots of time for rewrites. But for now, just get it done!


Annette Lyon said...

Yes! Couldn't have said it better. In a way, I don't think a beginning writer has the ability to decide when to shelve a project--not until they've completed SEVERAL and have gone through that learning process of reaching THE END (which is truly a magical moment). When first starting out, a writer should never, ever, shelve something without a very good reason. Just finish the thing so you know you CAN.

Stephanie Humphreys said...

I'm working on my second book and have hit a brick wall. I keep thinking I should shelve it, but then it drives me nuts not to have it finished.

Sue said...

You don't know how much I needed to hear this right now.

I have ten manuscripts that are 3/4 finished. TEN. I wish I was kidding.

I was just about to shelve another one, but now I'm thinking - maybe I should finish it.

Ya think?

(I'm thinking you might be on to something.)

Jennifer said...

Thank you for bringing this up! I really needed to hear this. I've also been trying to write a novel for a long time - about 12 years - and haven't gotten to "the end" yet. I've joined a critique group now, and they're not going to let me stop until I'm done with at least one of my books. I'm thinking that I shouldn't "shelve" a book until it's at least completed. I can't WAIT to get to "the end". :) My characters have been hanging in limbo for way too long.

Kimberly said...

Brilliant post, Julie!

I think what you express here is why I found nanowrimo to be such a positive influence on my writing. I committed to it and I followed through and it felt fabulous when I finished. Perhaps the end result wasn't anything particularly wonderful, but the feeling of completing the project was.

And I started my rewrites yesterday. So scary but so exciting.

Anonymous said...

For me a project may get shelved after its done because it is too personal or too complicated.
I need to step back from certain projects.
But, that the first drafts are complete–THAT is such a rush! Yes!
It's very magical to know you can get from here to the finish line, at least on a first draft.
And, I am finding out, that for me, the third novel has broken out of the too personal or too complicated into letting the characters have their way and I'm feeling quite liberated letting them do what they want to and being just the storyteller. It is really so much fun.

Melinda said...

I think every novel goes through slumps and times when "the romance is gone," especially in the middle chapters, but if you work through the blahs, they often resolve themselves and you can be feeling that love again. If you don't then maybe it is time to move on.

I agree with Annette about beginning writers not being experienced enough to decide.

Anonymous said...

What I would love to know is how does a "Storyteller" voice find acceptance in that it tells...?
(example: The Princess Bride)