Biting off more than you can chew?

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Biting off more than you can chew?

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dec 8, 2007, 12:19 am

I just wondered if anyone else out there has ever come up with a story - or other art form - that is just more than they can feasibly accomplish.

Do you jump ship, or pursue it?

My conscience says pursue, and my brain says "Don't be stupid, you know very well you don't have it in you to pull this off."

I honestly don't know what to do.

dec 8, 2007, 10:16 am

Perhaps you could give us more details?

Vollmann said he never intended Rising Up and Rising Down to be seven volumes; it just grew on him.

dec 8, 2007, 10:37 am

The best advice I ever received about the art & craft of writing was to "Back Burner it." In other words, let the idea simmer in the back of your mind while you go on with other projects (not necessarily writing). What your brain is telling you is that you are not ready to tackle this project NOW, it needs time to come together, time for your ideas to organize themselves, maybe a need to gather more information. This could be days, weeks, maybe months. But while you are doing other stuff, a corner of your brain is working on your not-ready-for-prime-time project & sometimes, when you least expect it, ideas will come to you. Jot them down before you forget them, review them when you have quiet time. It might take a while, & sometimes what seemed like a great idea doesn't work out after all, but these things usually take time so give it all the time it needs.

Redigeret: dec 8, 2007, 7:40 pm

I have a bunch of half-finished (or less) stories sitting around in files. Partly that's because I'm really more of a novelist than a short-story writer. Some of the stories I've started turned out not to be really "me." That is, I had an image in my mind of something that could make a good story, but after I started writing I found that to finish the story I would need to do more research on a topic or to delve deeper into an issue that just didn't interest me strongly enough.

Unfortunately, there are other stories that I started and then let drop, setting them aside for so long that the themes in them became musty, ideas from my past rather than my present. If I had just written a complete first draft, I think I could have come back to some of these stories, polished them, and perhaps published some of them.

If an idea excites you so much that you feel unworthy of it, you may need to muster up the daring to silence your inner critic, leap before you look, and go for it. The beauty of writing is that you can rough out a dreadful first draft just to get the sense of what you're doing, come back to it later to see what's working and what's not, revise (perhaps even drastically) to make it reflect your initial vision more fully, then set it aside and come back to it as many times as needed to polish it.

You say your conscience says one thing and your brain says another. What does your heart say? What does your writerly lust say? The best stories aren't written out of "ought to" or "this is small enough to be possible." Writing a really good story takes a leap of faith. If you fail, so what? At worst, you'll learn something about writing. At best, you'll have the time of your life and discover you have far more potential than you dreamed.

There are two ways of putting something on the back burner. If the back burner is cold and out-of-the-way, the idea is likely to get cold, too (unless it's a really huge idea, the kind of idea that comes out of a major life issue and is likely to dog you until you finally do something with it). But ideas don't have to be gigantic to make good stories. I think Marian is talking about the kind of back-burner that has a real flame under it. You're not giving up on the idea, but letting it deepen and develop until it goes from a simmer to a boil and you start feeling like you just have to sit down and write.

If there is a hurdle you have trouble getting over - for example, a plot point you can't quite work out - you might try thinking hard about it before you go to bed one night, then dismissing the idea from your mind and going to sleep. Wake up without an alarm clock the next morning and see what ideas come to you as you're in that drifting state between sleeping and waking.

dec 10, 2007, 9:47 am

...whereas I'm a grinder, just refuse to give up on something once I've started. I don't think this is always healthy or productive (or smart) but perseverance is a trait that writers (artists) must cultivate if they expect to have any hope of making it in this biz. There are projects that I probably should have abandoned but didn't (one radio play, never produced, comes to mind) but, then again, there are projects I wanted to abandon or shit-can but stuck with them and ended up with some terrific work.

And let's not forget, Tabitha King famously salvaged an early draft of a novel called CARRIE from her husband Steve's trash bin and told him he was on to something.

You just never know...

Redigeret: dec 10, 2007, 2:38 pm


That was a great example, Cliff.

dec 10, 2007, 4:22 pm

Even when a writing project we stick with "too long" turns out not to be a winner, the process of writing it can teach us so much. It's even possible we learn more from tackling projects that don't work out than from the ones that do. Their very difficulty helps stretch our imaginations and our writing muscles, and the experience of failing teaches us what doesn't work and points us down the path of what does. And maybe a failed project will nag at us and, years down the road, lead to an insight for a project that will succeed brilliantly.

dec 11, 2007, 11:22 am

ambushed... pursue it while you have the spark of interest alive. Even if what you can feasibly do is only a glimpse of what you want to do. Begin it ... "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." -Goethe

I don't know if this will help or not (lots of good perspectives from everyone here...) but I spent too many years listening to my ever persuasive "brain" that said I needed more something - life experience, education, wisdom, skill, space, time, money, blah, blah, blah - and I can tell you now that it never goes away. I've just learned to manage it and be willing to face the fear of inadequacy that rises up when you least expect it.

The only thing you need is to ignore that doubt and just begin it... like margad says, there is much to learn from messing up too. And if you don't like what happens, something else will occur to you in that moment. I'd bet on it.

dec 18, 2007, 4:52 am

I am with message #2: I'd love to have more details. My own process has been to let it sit on the back burner. Usually something will happen in my life that will give me an idea as to how to proceed.