Since mid-May of 2002, for 10 months now, I’ve been writing about 19 pages a month on a novel: “Prophecy.” I’ve got a schedule that says I’ll finish 125,000 words by the end of a full year, which would be sometime in May. May 7th or 8th, probably. It also says that when I reach 100,000 words, I’m allowed a month off.
As of this writing, I’m at approximately 99,000 words. I’m going to break a 100,000 this month. I’m going to finish that much by the end of this week, in fact.
I made a lot of progress early in this month, when I was thinking: “Hey, if I write 500 words a day all through March, April, and the beginning of May, then I can still make my 125,000-words-a-day count.”
Then I read Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse, by Richard Bach. (This quandary brought to you by Krud. Thanks, Krud!)
And now I’m re-thinking everything.
Writer Ferrets is a fictional work about writing. (The lead characters are all ferrets. This would be your first clue that it’s fiction.) Anyway, one of the key points in the book is that one of the main characters is trying to write the Great Ferret (read: American) Novel. It’s going to be this dashing, smashing, literary success that will earn him the praise of everyone. He’s already published some short stories for kids and one children’s book, but he doesn’t want to do kids’ books. He wants to write Literature.
Or at least, so he tells himself.
At the risk of spoiling the book for all of you: Mr. Ferret faces terrible writer’s block over this novel. He sits in front of the blank page, day after day, writing very little and hating almost everything he does write. He goes back to writing kids’ books, which he does very well, easily, and happily. He returns to the Great American novel. He still can’t get anywhere on it.
Finally, he realizes he doesn’t want to write this book at all. He doesn’t even like Literature. And he gives up and goes on to write and publish lots of successful children’s books.
I’ll bet at least one of you knows where this is going for me.
Over the last ten months, I’ve been laboring intensively to craft 99,000 words of this epic novel-without-a-name, working title: Prophecy. (You know, at least Mr. Ferret had a title for his unwritten book that he liked.) For the most part, it has not come easily. I’ve been pretty much fighting with it for the last six months. Writing is a chore and a duty. It’s not fun.
Then, one day, I decided on a whim to re-read a young-adult novel I’d read as a kid and liked a lot: Howl’s Moving Castle. And I loved it as much now as I had then. I found myself thinking: Why can’t I write a book like that?
And a month or so later, I looked through my old snippets and fragments, savoring pieces of stories half – or, in some cases, not at all – remembered. And I thought, Well, at the very least, I could certainly write like this again.
But I didn’t start writing fragments. Or at the least, if I did, it’s been one heck of a fragment. One story, two viewpoints, 28,000 words and counting. If March was NaNoWriMo, I’d practically win without even trying.
I haven’t been trying. I’ve been writing “Silver Scales” because it’s what I want to do with my free time. I write while I’m at work when things are slow. I eat my lunch in a hurry so I can get to my computer and write. I get home, eat dinner, then start writing. I wake up early thinking about what I want to write next. My head is full of it. When InTheWire’s Wordspinner was crafting his latest novel, he wrote, “But what’s more important and exciting to me is that I’m enjoying this. I find myself eager to get to the keyboard. During prep periods in school, I put off grading papers and write. In the evenings and on weekends, instead of puttering and nattering and futzing and doing useless chores at the computer, I write. I find myself wanting to write instead of doing schoolwork.” I found myself envying him. I couldn’t even remember what it was like to look forward to writing. I could write. I could even enjoy what I’d written. But want to write? Write for any reason except direst compulsion? Surely not.
Now I remember.
But “Scales” – I’m surely off to a bad start. I have no outline, only vague forms of what comes next. Can I possibly make a novel out of this? I have no master plan. It’s just one foot in front of the other and see what comes next. I’m even sort of stuck on what to do next: I have about three competing ideas locked in a fight to the death for supremacy in my brain. But even that – I’m suffering from too many ideas, not a dearth thereof. (Go figure! I should just pick one.)
But anyway …
But anyway …
Should I abandon the Master Plan?
I guess that the beginning and the end of the quandary, really. “Prophecy” is no Great American Novel. I’ve written quite a lot of it, most of which is, in my own humble opinion, reasonably well-written. I don’t feel as though it’s a book I have no business writing.
But it’s a book I’m tired of writing.
Richard Bach would tell me that being an author is about loving what you’re doing. About having fun.
Does that mean I should quit every time I’m not having fun?
Isn’t writing about persevering? About working your way past the hard parts? About determination and sweat? Should ‘This is work’ be equated with ‘This isn’t worth doing’?
And yet …
And yet …
If “Scales” is what I want to write, shouldn’t I write that? Shouldn’t I have fun while I can? What’s the point in being a writer if I don’t enjoy writing?
And yet …
Am I just fooling myself? Do I really want to write “Scales”, or am I like a housewife having a mid-life crisis, abandoning husband, house, and children to run off with some handsome stranger she hardly knows?
Unlike the proverbial housewife, I can have both. I can do any number of things.
1) I can do what I‘ve been doing since the beginning of the month: stick to the Master Plan on “Prophecy” and write “Silver Scales” when I’ve got my daily requirements for Prophecy handled. Prophecy isn’t a full-time job; I probably spend around 10-15 hours a week on it. That still leaves time for other hobbies. Like Warcraft 3, which I’ve given up, or Scales, which took WC3’s place.
2) I can compromise: ironically, until I started writing “Scales,” I had planned to take April off from working on Prophecy, and abandon any shot of making my year-end goal. If I did that, I could use April to do whatever I felt like doing, including work on “Scales.” It wasn’t until I found that could manage 500 words a day for sustained periods of time (I’ve done about that much on Prophecy for 30 days straight) that it occurred to me to even try to make the year goal, at this stage. Regardless, I can still take a break for April and then return to the Master Plan (or something similar to it) in May.
3) I can formally give up on the Master Plan, and only write what I feel like writing when I feel like writing it. Two months ago, I would have said such a resolution was tantamount to giving up on writing, period. Now, I’m not so sure.
4) I can switch the Master Plan over to Scales. (In fact, if I count the pages I’ve written for Scales towards the Plan’s goals, then I’ve made my 125,000 words already. :D )
Of those four, the only ones I’m really considering at this point are (1) and (2). I’m not going to a long-term resolution like “never finish Prophecy.” Even if I don’t feel like finishing the novel now, I certainly hope that I will finish it at some point in the future – even if that’s a more distant point than the end of 2003, the goal I’d originally hoped for.
The Master Plan is a psychological tool. I am not bound to it by contract, or anything other than “I said I would.” But it’s been a terribly potent tool. Since I started on it, for the first time in nearly a decade, I thought it was really possible that I could be an author. That I could write a book. Maybe even a book worth reading.
Abandoning the Master Plan means admitting that I was wrong about it. That’s not the same as admitting I was wrong about being able to write a book. But the implication is there: if I was wrong about being able to stick to this plan, I could be wrong about being able to stick to anything. As long as I’m on the Plan, I can keep telling myself I’ll get there, and more importantly, I’ll believe it.
I can still tell myself I’ll get there, even if I quit the Master Plan. But will I believe?
How much faith do I have?
I’ve been here before. I’ve quit writing a book that got dull in favor of writing a newer, livelier one.
I’ve been here many times before.
Is this time different?
I can’t tell.
To those of you who’ve read this all the way through: thank you. I’ll be happy to hear any advice you might have. But ultimately, I know:
Only I can decide.