Tuesday, November 6, 2007

When do you give up on a project?

I was given a great piece of advice about four years ago by a multi-published author.

Know when to put a project away.

At the time I was writing articles fairly regularly. I had created a system to writing a list of magazines that published the kind of writing I was doing. Then I'd submit an article to one place, then the next, then the next, until I'd reached all five-and been rejected at all five.

But while I was submitting those articles, I was also working on a novel. It was a masterpiece. There was a perfect heroine who was dealt a great injustice but she overcame it without breaking a sweat.

So, in a word, it was annoying.

But I executed it fairly well because it made the top twenty of a national writing contest of full novel MSs.

So I kept polishing it, editing it, tweaking it. And after TWENTY rewrites [yes, I said twenty] I finally put it away. I knew I'd never be a great writer. I was stuck writing articles for eternity. And shouldn't that be enough? I'd invested nearly two years of my life to this one book, and all for nothing.

That was when my mentor told me "You have to know when to put something aside."

Of course, at the time I had no idea that most published authors aren't published until the third or fourth manuscript. [Yeah, I'm on number four now!! Any day I'll get that call :-) ]

So you have to know when to put a project aside. But when is that? For me, it is the moment I pitch it.

Yep, if you know me for any length of time you'll learn that about a month after a project, sometimes less, I'm on to the next one. While a partial, query, or requested full is sitting in a slush pile somewhere I'm pecking away at my next project.

There are a few reasons for this:
1. You have SO much more confidence in your writing when you can say "I have a project sitting on an agent's desk right now under review." [That is my usual answer when someone in the family asks "How is that writing thing going?"]
2. If I'm writing something else I don't stare at the in box or mailbox. I am focused on the next project, improving my craft, and living the writing life.
3. If someone DOES like what they see and they say "What else do you have?" I like to be able to say "I'm outlining book x and I'm 10k in to writing book y. Which would you like to see first?"
4. Honesty. See, honestly your first few MS are practice. In all likelihood they'll never see the light of day. Yep, those masterpieces of literary genius will sit on a shelf for eternity. This isn't always the case. Sometimes you'll pull them down and completely rework them-but in their current form they won't.

The best way to live as a writer, a productive writer, is to see it as a cycle. You write, edit, query/pitch, send off partials and fulls. But as project 'A' is off making the rounds you're working on project 'B' and researching project 'C'.

It's like spinning plates. And if you ask any successful author you'll learn that IS the writer's life.

I'd love to hear where you are in the journey.


Maricello said...

Just dropping in from NaBloPoMo land. I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading more. Lots of great advice!

Cathy West said...

Well, I'm in the fear and trembling stage actually.
I've sent my 'baby' off and now I'm just waiting to hear what people think of it.
I find this is the place where doubt assails me big time, so I'm trying to find other things to do. Meanwhile I'll just pray for this book and work on the other ideas I have.
Keep giving us the great advice, we need it!

Your Coach for the Journey, Tiffany said...


It is great that you have the courage to face your fears and do it!! Most people don't even do that.

Keep us posted.

Simple Blog Writer said...

What refreshing advice. I am so passionate about starting new projects and have always felt a bit guilty about that. Perhaps I can let that guilt go.