When Writing Isn’t Fun

Sitka, Alaska

Sitka, Alaska Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I mostly love to write.  Putting words on paper to communicate an idea is exciting for me.

Last week, I came back to blogging after taking an unexpected month off.  It’s just that writing wasn’t fun for a little while.  I’m fighting with my novel.

I wrote a novel, and I thought it was pretty good.  I thought it was mostly finished.  Then I had my critique partner read it, and his feedback was unexpected.  He didn’t feel that the main character had growth or change, and made suggestions for changes.  A lot of changes.

At first I was upset.  I wanted to disagree.  I learned early on in getting critiques that not every criticism is valid.  A lot of it boils down to differences in taste.  I like mint chocolate chip ice cream, and you prefer vanilla nonfat yogurt.

(That’s not even ice cream.)

But in doing some critical thinking about the book, I had to agree with him.  So I went back and tried to make changes.

And I ran into stumbling block after stumbling block.  The story is no longer fun, and I don’t feel like the characters are talking to me anymore.  I’ve tried all the usual things I do to start a conversation with them, but they’re remaining stubbornly silent.  The story just isn’t going anywhere.

In the past month, while I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been trying to write that story.  Trying is very different than succeeding.  Or, in the immortal words of Yoda,

“Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Yeah, he was so right about that.

I have other novels that would like my attention, but putting aside the one I’m working on feels like giving up.  I’m not a quitter, so I don’t want to stop working on it.  When do I admit that taking a break from it might be a good thing?

I think that time is now.  Putting it aside and quitting aren’t the same thing.  I’ll come back to it.  After all, I’ve been trying (on and off) to write that particular novel for about 20 years.  It will keep.

In the meantime, I’ve learned some things about plot and conflict that I hadn’t thought through in the past.  I’ve always taken the lazy approach to writing, figuring that because writing comes easily, I never had to learn the mechanics.  I honestly think that’s why I’ve never completed a novel I’m happy with.

I’ve written three novels (if you don’t count the three I wrote as a teenager).  All three of those novels have critical plot issues.  Yes, they can be revised.  But as with everything else in life, it seems harder to revise a novel than it would be to write the damn thing correctly the first time.

So here I go, off to a new and different project.  Maybe after putting this one in a drawer for six months, I’ll come back to it with a fresh eye and new energy for editing.

Swamplandia- A Review

imagesSwamplandia, by Karen Russell, was this month’s book club pick.  I was skeptical about it from the start as it sounded more like literary fiction than genre fiction to me.  By this, I mean that it sounded more like a book that makes you think than a book where anything actually happens.  Don’t get me wrong; I love books that make me think, but I need plot too!

I gave up when I was about 100 pages in.  I tried to convince myself “It’s a third of the way through the book.  Just get through it!”  It didn’t work.  One of the other women in the club who finished (and loved) the book said it “got slow” in the middle but was “worth it.”  I thought that if it got much more slow, it would be going backward.

It’s funny, but on Amazon, the star ratings are pretty evenly spread between 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.  I’ve never seen that before in a book!

I wanted to like it, and I gave it more of a chance as a book club read than I would have if I were reading it on my own.  Though in fairness, I never would have picked it up had it not been this month’s selection.  I didn’t like it.  It’s well written with interesting characters, but no plot to speak of, and no forward momentum.  We’re thrust into the world of Swamplandia, and I didn’t care enough about anything in the book to keep reading.  Unless you really love literary fiction (in which case, why are you reading my blog?), I’d suggested passing on this one.