One of the most common difficulties that writers bring to our mentoring meetings is that they find it hard to see a project through to completion, so here are some quick diagnostic pointers which should help you to keep going when you're tempted by the Other Novel - or give you confidence that you really shouldn't.
Of course, the fact that today's writing work on One is boring, effortful and not obviously rewarding is very possibly just business as usual, as it can be in marriage. Most people know that, so it seems to me that there are different kinds of person who are nonetheless drawn to infidelity:
a) the writers who committed outwardly to a relationship (egged on by a society which feeds on stories of "following my passion 110%" and all the rest of the rhetoric), but can't bring themselves to commit inwardly. Adultery is a way of not putting all their emotional eggs in one basket, because that is deeply scary. And of course if, in turn, their commitment to the Other Project, Two, gets too scary, they can always leave it, either returning One, or moving on to their new best happiness, Three.
b) the writers who jumped in and committed to relationships too early out of fear of being alone or of never finding the truly "right" person. A longer, slower courtship might have revealed the flaws in the partnership before the joint mortgage was signed. Sometimes the only thing to do is to admit, with some honest soul-searching, that this is not the right partner for you.
c) the writers who "just want to have their cake and eat it". That's a flippant and rather judgemental response: the root of most human emotional complexities is fear, however brutally embodied. And besides, there's no shame in being a Sunday painter or writer who just wants to have creative fun. But, assuming you want to see One through to completion and some form of being read, digging non-judgementally into the desires and fears which are distracting you from that path could be illuminating.
So when you're feeling the lure of that twinkly new project, take a long, hard look at what is sapping your desire to stay with the current project.
1) What desires and fears drove you into the original relationship with One? What needs did it fulfil? What desires and fears are now tugging you away?
2) What unfulfilled writerly needs does the flirtation or affair with Two seem to fulfil?
3) What pleasures does Two offer which you've lost touch with in One?
4) Do any of these tell you about what needs to be different about how you work on One?
5) Has your Inner Critic realised you're about to stop being able to say something is a work-in-progress, flaws and all, and instead send it out into the world with a label which says "This is my best!"? Dodging away from that scary moment to something at a more comfortable stage of life, when you're not so vulnerable; some writers become course junkies for similar reasons.
6) If the two projects are different forms or genres - or even if they aren't - consider if the one or both are just not the right kind for you. The classic example is the natural-born short-story writer who keeps trying to write novels because to the rest of the world that's "real" writing, and might even make some money - but there are other misprisions of this kind.
Remember that no writing project is, actually, a person, and no metaphor drawn from human life is the truth about the writing life, merely a means of evoking what's hard to explain. In writing there is no crime or unkindness in being pragmatic about how your creative self works. Processes which get your needs are far more likely to result in good work that actually finds a home.
So try breaking what needs doing to all your current ideas and projects into clear stages and pieces of work. That way, you can scratch that seven-year itch but not be permanently lured away:
- Work-in-progress: frustrating, miserable plot-wrangling and deep doubt
- New Thing 1: an afternoon in the library researching and making notes, then back to
- WIP: sort out fall-out from plot-wrangling:
- NT1: one day on a rough draft try-out little short story for voice.
- WIP: line-edit wrinkle-smoothing of those scenes
- NT2: browse books which are doing the kind of thing you might do with NT2.
- WIP: push on with close-up microscope polishing
And so on. As a bonus, the day away from something often gives you a useful little bit of distance from it, and the new things may get you thinking in useful ways about the WIP, and vice versa.
To keep yourself on track, be very clear, every time, what today's job is. Don't fiddle or get lured away when something occurs to you about another project. Be prepared to calm the fears that you'll forget what you meant if you don't go with the new thing, or that you're wasting time going back to the boring old one, or vice versa. Just make loads of notes, thank the Inner Critic who's so full of dire warnings and then ignore them and recognise that there is no One Perfect Version of anything: the outcome of any writing will always be always contingent on the particular circumstances of its making. Then go back to today's work.
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/gdj-1086657/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=7393935">Gordon Johnson</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com//?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=7393935">Pixabay</a>