Project #1 – What Are We Going To Do With You?

Although sometimes chaotic, I find it is, ultimately, very helpful to have multiple projects on the go at the same time. Not to the extent where your focus is flipping from one thing to the next and you’re in the middle of a hundred unfinished manuscripts, but to the extent where you focus your energy on one and, in the breaks between, you switch to another. Personally, it helps me remain creative at all times, to work at something whenever possible. It has its downsides because it can lead to you being overworked, burnt out, conflicted, but there are upsides that I like to focus on as well.

Now that Project #3 is in, what I believe to be, the end stages of its creation, I’ve started going back to Project #1. There’s been a lot of time since I last worked on this project, and I’ve let it simmer, occasionally thinking about it and what can make it stronger, but only recently pouring more focus and energy into it. I initially let it sit in the background for two reasons, the first being that NaNoWriMo gave me such a great base for Project #3 that it just made sense to keep going with that project instead and the second being that Project #1 was giving me trouble and it needed work. Things needing more time is something that is bound to happen now and again; not every project can be straightforward, and I admit that Project #1 certainly hasn’t been.

Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes. When you’re full of stories, you think some are ready to be told and then you get to points where you realise it isn’t ready, either because you’re not entirely ready to tell it and you need more skills as an author or because the story itself isn’t ready and it needs work in various aspects from characters to plot to setting to everything else in between. I’ve always been prepared for those possibilities and wholeheartedly accepted that when I could see that was the case for Project #1. Thus, I was ready to let it sit in the background and come back to it when the time was right.

Over the past couple of months, I thought that time had arrived. In terms of trajectory, having Project #1 follow Project #3 is perfect, and it ideally sets up the kinds of stories I’d like to tell following Project #1, the kinds of genres and audiences I’d like to write for. So I set myself up for coming back to Project #1, I embraced its flaws and told myself it was the right time to work at it and make it a more fully-realised manuscript. I worked out some kinks, readjusted relationships, added characters and adjusted their trajectories and thought, here we are, this story is ready to be told. I edited the layout of what I had written previously and interjected the newer sections of a stronger manuscript, skipping through here and there but ultimately believing the pieces I needed were coming together. It still wasn’t plain sailing, but I knew there was a story there, that there was something I wanted to tell.

Unfortunately, it still isn’t working.

Usually, that would be fine. Editing and refinement are all a part of writing a manuscript and getting things finished. Sometimes you get frustrated in the middle of a manuscript and you either leave it blank or you really persevere, pressing yourself to get it finished. Hard work and perseverance are how stories get their endings and sometimes you might want to scream, but you have to accept that working at something that is frustrating sometimes rewards you with something exceptional. Sometimes, it’s the stories that are the most difficult to write that are the ones that are the best because that extra work is what refines them into something brilliant.

The fine line between knowing when to persevere and knowing when to give in (either scrapping something entirely or coming back to it at a later date) is almost invisible sometimes. At this moment, I’m really struggling to know if this is an idea to be scrapped, an idea to persevere with, or an idea to continue to work on at a later date after more stewing and more refinement. I’d like to think I’ve been putting enough work into it that it could, some day, be ready to be told, but when that will be, I can’t say. I was hoping it would start working for me immediately, but it simply isn’t.

I want to write. That’s almost part of the problem, I just want to sit and write from sunup to sundown, and it’s usually something I don’t have an issue with. But struggling as much as I am with Project #1 is getting to me. I fell out of my consistency after living in another country last year and I know that’s part of the problem. I used to write all the time, and then I stopped because I had other priorities, and the fears I had about losing that consistency and how that would affect my plans have, tragically, come true. This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing, it’s everything I aspire to, but it does mean that it’s become even trickier for me to know when something’s sticky but still workable and when something’s too sticky and needs time to cool down in the back of my mind.

So I don’t know what to do with Project #1. I like the story, I think there is something there, that the characters have something to say, and, like I said, this story coming where I thought it would sets up an almost perfect trajectory for the stories I’d like to continue telling. There’s messages I really love, complicated characters that interest me with relationships I adore, but it simply won’t come together.

I keep sitting, staring at the words on the screen, wondering what changes might make it more accessible to me. More changes to the characters? I’d happily do it if I could figure out what changes were necessary. Altering the setting? Again, I’d more than happily do so if I could work out how the story fits in a different setting. Adjusting the relationships? Once more, I’d do it, but I don’t know how it will help. My problem is that I don’t know what the problem is. But I know there is one, and it’s making it very difficult to make the story work as a whole.

Do I leave it be, letting it sit in its half-finished state with scenes that have no endings and flashes of dialogue that have no beginning? Do I keep working at it, knowing it is the exact story I would need after Project #3 to push myself along the journey I know I want to go on? Do I scrap it, maybe coming back to it later or maybe never letting it see the light of day, acknowledging that, sometimes, even the stories you think you need to tell are ones that you won’t end up telling, and thus changing the journey I’ve set up for myself? And does changing that journey mean changing even Project #3 because the trajectory won’t be set up the way I need it to be set up? There are so many questions, and sitting and staring at this story in anguish is simply not helping.

I know there aren’t perfect and easy answers. Art is something that offers you freedom and joy, but there are moments of peril and anguish mixed within there that can make creative journeys miserable now and again. There are stakes attached to this kind of writing that haven’t been there for my previous works, and that’s likely getting to me as well.

I don’t know what the solution is because, if I did, I’d have a different post this month. I am happy to write about when things are tough because if I pretended everything was always plain sailing and that everything about writing was easy, well, I’m probably on the wrong app for that. Acknowledging the difficulties that face writers help us seem human, I suppose, because that’s what we all are, struggling with different aspects of creativity at different times, and I don’t mind admitting that. Time can be the greatest factor for so many things and whilst patience is far from being my greatest strength, I know there are lots of things I can’t rush, and trying to rush yourself into making a project into something it either isn’t ready to be or isn’t meant to be won’t actually get you anywhere.

Here’s to hoping we can figure things out eventually. Soon would be better, but eventually is good too.

Robyn x

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