My WIP is RIP

I have abandoned the manuscript I’ve been working on for over a year. Not an easy decision. After writing The Cavanaugh House, I thought it would be easy to bust out a sequel. I had ready-made setting, characters, and plot devices. Readers were clamoring for more of Jesse and Joe, Maggie and Marty and ghosts…more ghosts. I had the recipe, now all I had to do was follow it, right?

 

Wrong.

 

Boris, Where are You?

imagesFor one thing, I didn’t feel Boris, my Muse, like I normally do when I write. He was with me as I wrote my other books—even during Love’s Destiny when I didn’t even know him yet. Often times I was in “the flow” where the words seemed to seep from my fingertips onto the keyboard. When I read them aloud the next day, it was like I was reading them for the first time. Now this didn’t happen everyday. Some days it was HOKBIS (Hands on Keyboard, Butt in Seat) and I struggled as every writer does gritting out words and paragraphs and scenes. But during the writing of this book, it was like Boris was off having a beer with the other Muses. Maybe it was nectar, I don’t know.

 

When Life Gets in the Way

Making the decision to abandon my draft came after much soul-searching and feedback from my beta readers. I had wrangled this story for a long time, but it never seemed to settle into a smooth tale. During the year of writing this book several major life events occurred: my husband retired and was home all day, we decluttered the house which was very emotional and draining, we prepared the house to put it on the market, kept it clean for any showing that might happen at a moment’s notice, searched for a new home in a different city, sold our home, packed, moved to another city, unpacked, and began to learn our way around. Not to mention trying to find a new doctor, dentist, and HAIR STYLIST. When I write, I need long stretches of time to enter my fictional world, focus on what’s happening, and create a cohesive story.

 

Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert

I believe a book comes to us when it is meant to come to us. Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book Big Magic came to me at the appointed time. I began to read it the day after I decided to abandon my draft, and Elizabeth was there to 1) help me accept that decision and 2) give me comfort. In her book, she proposes that “Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form…separate from us but capable of interacting with us.” When we ignore or can’t respond to an idea (due to life getting in the way, for example) the idea moves on to more fertile ground (i.e. someone who grabs it and runs with it). The personal example she uses in her book to prove this theory will blow your mind. Perhaps that is what happened to my WIP. I didn’t give it the attention it deserved so it moved on. In any event, it isn’t working for me right now.

 

Keep on Keepin’ On

Clean deskI suppose I could wallow in self-pity and feel like I’ve failed, but I don’t. In fact, I’m quite peaceful—even relieved—with my decision. I’ve worked and reworked the story, but to no satisfactory end. I packed my manuscript, notes, and critiques in a priority mailing box and put it on a shelf in my office. I spent the day cleaning off my desk so I would be ready for the next Idea.

When Elizabeth Gilbert abandoned her Evelyn in the Amazon book, she didn’t waste time stewing about it; she went on to the next Idea. “Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t rage at the gods above…Find something else to work on—anything, immediately—and get at it.” That’s what I did before I’d even read it in her book. I started research for another historical romance set in the American Revolution whose characters have been talking to me for a while now. Miss Gilbert’s words were very affirming.

 

Will it Stay on the Shelf?

Packing boxI don’t know. Last night after I’d written most of this blog post, I got two judges’ comments back from a contest I’d entered. Both gave decent, though not winning, scores, and one judge loved what she had read of the book. So there is hope. There is a pearl in there somewhere. I’m reminded of the story of the optimistic boy who was given a huge pile of manure for his birthday. With glee he sat atop it and started to dig saying, “I know there’s a pony in here somewhere.” Well, I hope my WIP isn’t a huge pile of poop, but I also know there’s a great story in there somewhere. And when I get back to it, I will let Boris lead the way.

 

The Good Thing That Happened

While we might stop for a moment or two of comforting self-pity, we can’t linger or we’ll miss The Good Thing That Happened when we abandoned a project that wasn’t working. For Elizabeth Gilbert the Good Thing That Happened was her memoir Committed. For me it was the realization that I had some unfinished business with The Cavanaugh House. With the frustrating WIP off my desk, I am able to concentrate on the final plans I have for my first mystery. I am also looking at my children’s books again with an eye to publication. So when one project goes south for whatever reason, we grab our favorite writing device—electronic or not—and we move on to the next Idea. We are writers. We can’t help ourselves.

 

Have you ever abandoned a project? What did you do? How did you feel? What was the good thing that happened?

24 thoughts on “My WIP is RIP

  1. There is most definitely a pearl in there, but… to continue the metaphor… if you try to force the oyster open too early, you risk damaging yourself or the precious pearl. Give it time, be gentle with yourself and your MS. It isn’t dead, just hibernating, waiting for the right ray of spring sunshine to shed light on it and show you how to move forward. I find at this stage it helps to sleep a lot, walk a lot, and read a lot, both within and outside the genre I’m writing in. The solution will come.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Thanks for your encouraging words, Stephanie. You are so right – I have been trying to force it, and it just wasn’t working. I’ll give it and myself some time to recoup and who knows, down the line it may come together beautifully.

  2. Your post gave me goose bumps, Betty. I so needed to look at my two WIPs in a different way–I’ve been kicking myself for not going back to them, and saying that I must, I must.

    Maybe I don’t have to.

    I have a shorter length project I can start on now, and I got out my poetry collection when I wasn’t trying to force myself to wait on that to work on the WIPs. But I kept thinking of them as an obligation, which is the wrong way to write.

    So–I’m putting them away, not putting them off, and, as you recommend–I’m letting myself go on with life anyhow.

    Thanks!

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      I think when we share our journeys – the successes and the not-so-successful (I refuse to label this a failure) we find strength and solace in our fellow writers. I hope you find the Idea that is calling to you right now, Leslie. Thanks for your encouragement.

  3. That took a lot of guts. You can do anything. Refocus, regroup and come back stronger than ever.
    Even if the sequel wasn’t ‘the one’, you were writing. That’s more than I can say for myself at the moment. (slaps hand!)
    I’m proud of you. And I know all your Sisters are too. 🙂

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Jennifer, we writers are so committed to our craft that it is sometimes hard to just step back, take inventory, and perhaps set a new course. I hope you find what works for you to get back on track because I know how dedicated you are! Thank you for your kind words.

  4. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had to shelve the book for now. I really enjoyed Cavenaugh House and was looking forward to a sequel, but I think you will finish it someday. Life changes can have a real effect on our writing. Every thing in its own time. The book I’m working on was actually begun ten years ago (I actually have a few of those books!), and the story first took form as a short story years before that. For whatever reason, it would never come together, and I shelved it to work on other projects. I even tried a few times to finish it for the I Will Write a Book challenge, to no avail. But last year I entered it again, and even though I didn’t finish it by the Nov. deadline, I am nearing the 200 page mark, and I think it will be finished soon. It’s strange that it took this long to get a handle on the story, but I’ve learned some things since then and I think they will make for a richer, more complex story. At least I’m hoping for that! Good luck with whatever you decide to work on next.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Thank you, Lucy. I see you’ve traveled this road, too 🙂 I like what you said, “Every thing in its own time.” I think letting it go for a while will bring me back to the ms fresh, and as you said, “having learned some things.”

  5. Wonderful post, Betty! I”m so proud of you for the courage this took. So far, my characters won’t allow me to let them go. They bug me at 3:00 am, demanding their story be told. What I take away from your post is that if it does happen, it’s okay to box it up and put it on the self for a while. You taught me that there is no shame in it—and I didn’t fail. This just isn’t the right story to tell at this time in my life. A valuable lesson that will come in handy in my future. So thank you! I wish you all the very best in your next project. In the meantime, enjoy your new life to the fullest.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Nancy. If your characters are waking you up a 3:00 a.m., the Idea has found you and will not leave – that’s wonderful! I hope sharing this phase of my journey will be helpful because I’m sure every writer out there experiences this at some time.

  6. Betty, wonderful post. For what it’s worth, it took me over thirty years to get Dragon Dawn from the idea phase to the “it’s published” moment. The first few drafts didn’t work for me, and I let the manuscript rest for at least a decade. Lo and behold, the time was right for a new start in 2013. I furiously rewrote it, the words and ideas bursting forth as if all the muses in the universe were urging me on. And it worked! I was happy with it and decided this was the moment. You are wise to let your sequel sleep for now. Sometimes it just takes time.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      You always give me hope, Deborah! It’s good to know that it’s possible to let the ms rest for a while and the Big Magic can return. It sounds like the Idea returned to you in full force in 2013, and I’m so glad it did because I thoroughly enjoyed Dragon Dawn.

  7. Piroska says:

    I think any artist (artisan, craftsman, musician) goes through this. Whether it be words, or sketches, or scraps of material for a quilt, sometimes…it just doesn’t work. Better to shelve it (for now) and keep the creativity flowing for something else, than force something to work (and end up hating it).

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      You’re so right, Piroska. It sometimes felt like I was pulling teeth to make this story work, and that’s a sign that I needed to put it away for a time. I have moved on to other projects where the energy is flowing.

  8. I agree…Great post! I have been playing with something for nearly a year and it won’t come together. Stubbornly I won’t let it go but maybe it’s time. Health has been a factor in my inability to put clever words on a page, but still… food for thought here. Thanks.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      It’s been just as you’ve said, Joanna. “It won’t come together.” Maybe your stubbornness will turn things around and you’ll suddenly be inspired – I hope so Health issues would be a definite hurdle, but you haven’t let that stop you yet! 🙂 Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in this craziness <3

  9. Elizabeth. I apologize for coming to this so late. I’ve been grappling with a cold that wants to become bronchitis. Otherwise I’d have responded right away. This same thing has happened to me in the past and you’re handling the trauma and loss much more graciously than I did. I was near to inconsolable. You are obviously made of stronger stuff. But do let me say one thing. Boris will return and so very likely may this story. It could reappear much changed and more rich and full than ever. There are simply times when we can’t write and probably shouldn’t write – other than journal entries tracking our emotional ride on the life coaster. You have been on such a ride in your own life in so many ways. If it is any comfort – I’m with you. We’re all with you. Boris is with you. You just need to go to ground a while and rest yourself. When you’re ready to re-emerge I have no doubt you will find that – like the Force – the Muse is with you. And so are we. All the way.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Thank you for your kind words and support, Alice. It is a loss, and I recognize that I am grieving – a difficult thing to admit. You are so right – I need to rest, re-create, and allow my Divine Attendant Spirit (as Elizabeth Gilbert calls a muse) to visit when it is time. I’m just getting over a sinus infection, and those many days I sat like a slug on the couch unable to even read made me fear I would never have energy or feel well again. It would be very easy to slip into a similar frame of mind about my writing – that I will never feel inspired, energized, compelled to write again. But I trust Boris and I trust this God-given gift. I believe that in time my fingers will be dancing across qwerty again. I hope this story will return because I think buried within it is a treasure.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      I just read your post about abandoning your WIP, Natalia. You are right- it is a relief. Like you, I’ve moved on to something else. But I hope to get back to Buried Secrets someday.

  10. Oh my goodness, this is so PERFECT! I needed to see this today. I have so many partially completed projects lurking about, refusing to die, yet I seem to ignore them and work on others. Maybe I just need to do this. Release them. Cross them off my list and shelve them. If they come back, grasping me by the hand to lead me to the keyboard, I’ll know its our time.
    And I’m looking up those Elizabeth Gilbert books!

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      It’s so hard when we have so many story ideas pulling us in all directions, Trisha. This was the only way I could handle this manuscript. I’m actually starting to look at it again with fresh eyes. I hope you enjoy Elizabeth Gilbert’s books. Have you read Anne Lamott’s books? I loved Bird by Bird.

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