on giving up, or not

In response to Jenna St. Hilaire, Halfway.

Sometimes you want to.

Sometimes you need to.

Sometimes you shouldn’t.

I seem to have inadvertently begun writing a pop song. Stand aside, Mr McCartney, ‘Only Sometimes’ coming through on the charts. Brr—that’s a ghastly thought. Forgive me while I move on.

I’d feel a little impertinent calling this a webpartee—as Jenna observed over at ‘Halfway,’ we’re not really disagreeing at the moment. This is really more of a comment on Jenna’s post, posted here by order of the Regulated Society for the Prevention of Long Off-Topic Comments. Or something. Which is just too bad, because this is on topic.

Well, not yet. But in a sentence.

Jenna and I are in a paradoxical situation. (Ha! Knew this post belonged over here.) Jenna has been pursuing NaNoWriMo. I have not. Jenna has been assiduously writing 1600+ words of her novel manuscript every day. I have not. Jenna is likely to complete said novel-length manuscript by 30 November. I, alas, will not.

We have, it seems, accomplished about the same amount of work this month.

Jenna explains:

I’m starting to feel as if I care too deeply about finishing without a better reason than "I hate giving up." Last year at this point in the novel, there was action. Captures. Attacks. Fear. Emotional twists. This year, they’re cooking. And talking.

I’m even bored.

I know that feeling. That’s a runner’s feeling, if I may say so, about halfway through a really good run. Or a really awful run. The catch is, you can’t tell which it is until you get to the end and go, ‘Ahhh.’ Or ‘Ewww.’ That’s how you tell. Often enough, that’s how you can tell with manuscripts sometimes, too.

If you’re running, however, and something hurts—stop. If it’s just anguish and weary, walk a bit a run again. If it hurts—stop. You could hurt yourself much worse than you think you just hurt yourself.

Sometimes you have to do that with a manuscript, too. I tried writing an adaptation of Hansel and Gretel, once. About 2000 words in, I realised 1. my plot was as interesting as a horse that hasn’t been dead long enough to decompose and 2. it was just Coraline fanfic without the courage to admit it. The story, if I can put it this way, ‘hurt.’ I gave up and went on with my life.

My novel-length manuscript, though—that’s awful. It’s slow going. I’m lucky if I get 500 words a day, two days out of five. My goal is 1500-2000 five out of five. Sometimes, writing a book is just awful. You’re writing through your pain and existential despair, and ready to chew the head off a small animal if it jumps onto your keyboard one. more. time.

That’s not hurting. That’s just fatigue. The point of distance running is to run farther than you think you can run. The point of writing an 80,000 word manuscript is writing more than you think you can write.

Unless you’re like my pal Dave, who runs Marathons to relax. Or like some writers I know who were blessed by a fairy and have bestsellers falling out of their mouths, instead of diamonds or toads (the nerdy little brother never gets mentioned in that story, you know?). The annoying thing is that Dave’s time is outstanding, and the books are all really good.

You have to do it a first time once. You do it again a lot. That doesn’t mean the second time is as easy as the fiftieth.

Jenna and I are at the same place in our manuscripts—about halfway. The fatiguing and dreadful middle section, where the album sags and runners start spitting and gasping. We’re approaching it in different ways. She’s writing feverishly hoping to capture the idea that captured her first. I, who’ve been working on this manuscript for far too long, start morosely at my screen and type random phrases, wondering what the heck I was thinking when I started writing the scene fifteen minutes ago.

Between us, I suspect we’d be scrimping to come up with five thousand useable words (and most of those would be Jenna’s). In all simplicity, Jenna is following the write-first-question-later school, whereas I am interrogate-first-write-next-week.

The key is to not give up. Because if it’s a real story—you can’t give up.  This story demands to be told. If it’s not a real story, it’s probably better not told. It demands merely your soul in a devil’s wager. Shut it down now and move on. No shame now, either way.

Personally, I trust Jenna’s judgement. As I’ve said before and will say again, I respect her as a writer and as an individual. She’s done this before—it’s not a first Marathon.  It’s not a first novel. I’m confident she can finish, no worries. But I trust her as a storyteller, too—trust her not to make a devil’s wager.

Because you race against yourself, really. You are the hearer of your tale. And you know when you should stop—whether it’s where you intended to stop or not. There is always another story, always another race.

To have begun at all—that is victory.

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3 thoughts on “on giving up, or not

  1. Mr. Pond, that was a very, very kind post. It was also exactly what I needed to hear today–because at 5 AM this morning, I crawled out of bed, booted up my computer, typed a string of asterisks across the bottom of my NaNoWriMo Word document, and started over at Chapter 1.

    You’re absolutely right. There’s a difference between awful and a devil’s wager. I could not keep going with so little direction–every word seemed to hurt. The story is in me somewhere, but I want it to be Real, and the story I was typing was not.

    I’ve got more of an outline to work with now. By November 30, I hope to have at least 50,000 words counting the failed 27,500, but I’ll probably still be in the middle. Like you. And I’m totally okay with that. Better in the middle and going somewhere then at the end of nothing whatsoever.

    Thanks for being an encouraging friend and fellow writer. Your words made me smile this morning. I can’t tell you how much I needed that.

  2. Jenna, you’re welcome. I’m glad my words could be timely. And I’m glad you settled on whether to stop or run. I’m guessing from the tone of Monday’s post that you’ve made the right choice. Well done.

    I actually want to tell a bit more on my friend Dave, since the sentiment fits mine in our conversation. He was running in a marathon (one of many he’s run), and somewhere near the middle of the race–when it’s getting hard–saw a college-age girl running, wearing a shirt that said “Running For My Dad.”

    Dave ran up alongside her. “Hi,” he said. “I’m not your father. But I’m somebody’s father. And I want you to know–I’m proud of you.”

    (Yes, Dave is staggeringly awesome.)

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