So many choices and so few decisions

I have a problem. My problem is that I’ve done a lot of writing recently … but hardly any of it has been novel-related. I’ve written a short story for The Write Romantics Anthology out later this year which I enjoyed and I’ve written several blog posts but I haven’t really progressed with my novels.

Why?

I think the fact that I say novelS – plural – rather than novel could be part of the problem.

By the end of November last year, I was absolutely storming it with my writing. I’d finished book 1 and it was out there seeking representation, I’d also finished my first draft of book 2 thanks to NaNoWriMo AND cracked on with about a third of book 3. (I cheated on NaNo. Officially you’re meant to start from scratch with a new book but that simply didn’t work for me timing-wise so I finished one and started the next and, let’s face it, my aim was to do 50,000 words and I achieved it. It made no difference to me whether that was on one, two or even twelve novels! Eek. Twelve. The thought brings me out in a cold sweat).

Fast forward eight months later and I’m in exactly the same position. Book 1 is out there seeking representation (still waiting on the final publisher decisions before going down the indie route), book 2 is no longer at 1st draft but it still needs work, and book 3 is still a third in and I’ve changed my mind about the order of events that I’d plotted out so carefully so change is needed. Problem is, the change is within the third I’ve already written. Typical.

So what I’m doing right now is dithering. I do a bit on book 2, I then move to book 3 and I’m now feeling I want to revisit book 1 again and all of this is not actually getting anything done.

A few thoughts spring to mind as to why a normally-organised and in control person like me is dithering so much:

  1. I’m bored of writing the trilogy, having worked on it for 11 years now and I’m ready to start something fresh
  2. I’m having a crisis of confidence thanks in part to my awful NWS critique on book 2 (where my reader kept saying there were lots of good bits then forgetting to tell me what they were)
  3. I’m genuinely not a good enough writer. I can see there are plot points to be improved upon and I’m not talented enough to do anything about them
  4. There is too much else going on in my life. Between a full-time job with a ludicrous amount of unexpected travel, family time, Brownies, keeping up with social media (as a good writer should) and life in general, I don’t have the time or energy to undertake the amount (or quality) of writing I’d like to
  5. I feel like my life is on hold whilst waiting for three final publishers to come back to me. One of these is several weeks overdue and the other two are due this week (specific timescales they gave me via email discussions as opposed to the general guidance provided at submission time). If I did get the call and if I did accept it, where I go next with the books may be quite different to what I’d do if I became indie so I’m in a state of flux not knowing at the moment

Or could it be all of the above? 

I’d say it is. Except perhaps 1. Eleven years is a heck of a long time to work on a trilogy but I’ve had significant periods within that time when I haven’t written at all (we’re talking several years when I had the munchkin) so it hasn’t been eleven solid, intensive years. I also love my characters, my setting, and believe in their stories so I don’t think I’d ever get bored of them. But perhaps that links into points 2 and 3. Because I love them so much and am so passionate about the stories they want to tell, I panic that I can’t do them justice.

Another problem is that my writing time is so snatched. I may get two hours one evening and then 2 days with nothing. This is hard for the thought process. Approx two months ago, I scrolled through book 2 and wrote on a set of post-it notes the main points of the chapters. I stuck them on a glass display cabinet next to my desk. As I was writing these out, thoughts were whizzing through my mind as to what I could link/change/add in/remove. The next step was to capture these but we were going out so my thought process got broken. A week later, I had time to pick it up again but the cogs that had been turning so well were now dormant and rusty. I tried to look at the chapter details and remember. But I couldn’t. So I put some token thoughts on in other pretty-shaped post-it notes and it all looks very impressive … but it’s not quite right because of that break. And because it’s not quite right, I’m putting off returning to book 2 because I’m still unclear what I want to do to it or why. What I really need to do is do that whole exercise again in its entirety. But where do I have time to do that?

Answer: Take a month off work (at least) and write solidly.

Likelihood of that happening: Absolutely zero.

So how do I overcome points 2-5 above and deal with the snatched writing time so that I can get this trilogy finished to the absolute best of my ability (ignoring the doubts of points 2 and 3)?

I don’t actually know.

One of my day job roles is a coach. I ask questions of others and I guide them to help them reach the solution that they have within themselves. I’m quite good at coaching myself and I like to do this in the form of writing. I’ve found that writing down my thoughts in a post such as this really helps. I explore the options and the pros and cons of each, coming to the conclusion that’s right for me. I’ve effectively coached myself through the problem. I did this with my recent decision to write under a pen name and the exploration prior to that around the indie route. When I started writing both those posts, I wasn’t really sure what I’d decide and the process generated my conclusion.

This time I can’t coach myself because the answers aren’t within me. I will put my hands up (or I would if I didn’t need them to type this) and say I honestly don’t know what to do.

Do I just hang in there and wait for no 5 issue to be resolved and hope the timescales given to me are met? What if they aren’t met, though? How much time might I wait? Time that I would be wasting. Time that I could have been writing. If I could get my act together and write!

Hmmm. Answers on a postcard please or, even better, in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your take on it. Do you recognise yourself in this post? How did you overcome it (assuming you did)? Help!!!!!

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4 thoughts on “So many choices and so few decisions

  1. Hi Jessica, speaking as one of the great unpublished therefore effectively knowing nought, I’ll foist on you my random thoughts. On your numbered points, well, for a start, cut out 2 and 3. 2 will be temporary, 3 will turn out not to be true. You may as well also cut out number 4. I know you’re a dedicated writer and you won’t be able to stop yourself from writing, therefore you will find the time, somehow. Number 5, well yes, that’s where I am too. Waiting. Because it’s what we do. But it does take the sting out of it if you can bring yourself to focus on your next project, even if you’re not actually writing but just making notes for a new book or doing a bit of research. (But if you can’t, don’t beat yourself over it.) If it’s a good outcome, fantastic, but if it’s not, you’ve already moved on, so what? Which leaves number 1, and I think this is the key to the whole conundrum. You’re bored with the trilogy. So don’t write it. Even if you know where you’re going with it, the writing won’t come across as lively and fresh if you’re fed up with the whole thing. I don’t know the book, but could you perhaps see it not as a trilogy but as book one with a sequel to follow? A trilogy is one hell of an ambitious project anyway so maybe you need to make life easier for yourself. So how about this? Press on with trying to get book one published by all means, and indie-publish it if that doesn’t work, then forget the other two books for now and write a brand new one with new characters. The work you’ve done on the other two books won’t be wasted as you will come back to them afresh, there’s the possibility of running them as sequels. Am I talking out of my hat as usual? Yes, probably, but perhaps some of this will help. Good luck with the submissions. Everything crossed!
    Harriet xx

    • Hi Harriet, thank you for your advice and guidance. I don’t have many down-times with my writing as I love it and couldn’t not do it but I think I’m having one this week. Although the fact that I haven’t written much for a while would suggest it’s been longer than that. I honestly don’t think I’m bored with the trilogy as that would be an easy response as you suggest; get on with something else. I think it’s more the crisis of confidence making me believe I’m not good enough to write the trilogy. Which means I’m not good enough to write anything else either. Aarrrghhhh! But thank you for the kind words about ignoring 2 & 3. Really appreciate them xxx

  2. Can I offer a modicum of tough love (which will be softened further down the comment with some warmer fuzzier love)?

    Tough love first: Just write the sodding book(s). It doesn’t matter in what order. Either finish book 3 and then go back and revise 2 and 3. Or revise 2 and then go on and finish 3. But decide on an order and get on with it. I’d say there’s no point doing more on 1 while it’s out on submission (unless you’re already fully decided that you’re going to turn down any offers and go indie), and you’ve got lots to be getting on with in the meantime.

    Warmer, fuzzier love now: Give yourself a break. We all have writing fallow periods from time to time. They don’t make us bad writers or bad people. Sometimes they’re just because life gets in the way. Sometimes they’re because somewhere deep in the back of our brains things are perculating away and we don’t even know it. If you’re still in a fallow period, maybe you need to let it happen for a time-limited period while you decide how to proceed, but maybe set yourself a deadline? EG.’On 1st September I will get back into book 3 and write x thousand words each week until it’s finished’, but then don’t even let yourself open the ms until then. It sounds a bit mad (especially in light of my tough love advice) but sometimes the fallow periods are a necessary evil.

    Finally, don’t stress over one review or critique. Read it. Consider the criticisms. And then stick it in a drawer and get on with writing your book.

    xx

  3. Thanks Alison, great advice and I really appreciate the tough love and the fuzzier love combo! xx You’re right. It doesn’t matter which I work on. I think the problem last week really was a huge crisis of confidence disguised as indecision. I’m actually working on book 1 now. It’s in great shape but, after a year’s break, it’s ready for a once-over. I’ve also changed something minor in my writing style and need to make sure that’s consistent across the 3 books. Becasue book 1 requires so little work, this is giving me a bit of space and taking pressure off which I think is just what I needed. Whilst book 1 is still out there, I don’t believe it’s going to be picked up so I need to prep myself for indie anyway. You’re absolutely right about writing goals. That’s my next piece of work after book 1; get a detailed plan with some key goals. Already excited about the satisfying prospect of ticking things off.

    Thanks again. Really appreciated.
    Jessica xxx

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