In some ways I think being a writer is a bit like having manic depression. There are huge, massive energy-boosting highs, followed by big, almost self destructive, lows. It's like a wavelength, our emotions go up and down all the time, up to the highest we know, and down by equal measure to the lowest depths we inhabit.
Let's say the highs are composed of the 'writers' high' (as I've seen it referred to in some texts), that being those times when you sit down with a scene beckoning, and you type like fury as the thing plays out in your mind. Between 4 and 7k words can just splurge out, and they're pure gold. The scenes are vibrant and alive, with the characters in full swing. Hours fly by, and you don't even notice, and woe betide anyone who breaks your flow!
Another high would be the satisfaction that comes with a completed story. One big high with a finished first draft, and another with a completed, polished work.
And another, huge high, with an acceptance for a short story, or a contract for a novel. Big, big emotional highs.
But we also have the lows. Yeah, you sit down on Monday and rattle out five thousand effective words, but come Tuesday, all you want to do is grin and watch telly. Something strange happened, and you can't account for it, but you don't really care. Come Wednesday, you're thinking, 'damn, I better get my act back together.' Come Friday, you're thinking you're never going to make it as a writer, and everything you ever wrote was garbage. Despair sets in.
And then there are rejections -- usually vastly more numerous than acceptances, taken in-stride most of the time, but occasionally, you've got that Friday feeling, and a rejection gives an extra kick and it's all doom an gloom.
So we have this situation where it's possible to fly high as a kite one day, and within the week, be doubtful and questioning everything, and within hours of that, the cycle can start over again as we sit down, suddenly inspired, and start flying high again... and so on and so forth.
Sometimes, though, a particular project can go into the 'damn, I should get my act together on this,' stage, but continue to resist. Some novels stall, some shorts beguile, and I'm pretty sure that every one of us has a story which has been consigned to the realm of 'I might look at it and try a revision one day' category, which we also know really means, 'I no longer give a damn about this.'
What's to be done?
I think if we could identify the no-hope stories early enough, we could save ourselves a lot of heartache. And I also think that there is a case for 'laying aside.' Not just for a few days to get perspective, not just for a few months to come back with fresh eyes and more skills, but the willingness to lay a story aside for years, on the basis that 'this sucks right now, but there's something here, and I want it in reserve for Lordy knows when.'
I know we all do have such a category, and regularly drop things into it, but I think all the nightmares could be taken out of this scenario. It's not so much, 'I can't write, I can't do this, I can't see what it needs, I can't, I can't, I can't...' I think it's more the case that, 'this ain't working right now, it's not the right time for this thing.'
A novel takes up a lot of dedicated time. Years, usually. Creating, and honing, and panning, and chopping, and revising, and rewriting, and editing... it can take a long time. Getting stuck once in a while is part of that. Like all writers, I want my latest novel to shine, to draw readers like a magnet, to hold them like gravity, and to speak to them on visionary or world-view-altering level. Fully engaged, is how I want my readers to be, and I want to employ every trick in the book, and some unique ones, in order to accomplish that.
But if my novel stalls at 14K words, I need to know what's going on, I need to know if this is: a) a short term lull in creativity, or b) a complete standstill, from which recovery will never happen.
We don't know. When a project grinds to a halt, we have no way of knowing if that's a terminal moment, or just another low.
I think we can use the wavelength theory to gauge this. I think that if an anticipated upsurge doesn't occur, that's when the project should be slid across onto thin ice. If it's then the cast that the project does not inspire over the duration of time in which you'd normally expect two, maybe three highs, then it needs to go in the bin.
And when I say 'bin' I mean, looking at it side-glance, but not really looking at it. I mean, consigned to the hard drive, with forlorn love, with echoes of passion, fingers reaching for it, but not quite connecting. Toss the story like a Frisbee. If you truly love something, let it go, if it loves you back...
Ellsea, of FM, recently revealed that she's been working on a story that she originally devised over three years ago. Three years!
It came back.
I think this is a viable technique. Yes, a novel can be forced out of a reluctant mind. But if the fire isn't there, if it really stalls and writing it is simply a case of making up the number of words, then I think it is time to cast the thing to oblivion.
Given how much time a story takes to write and polish, and given the phenomenon of constant improvement among writers, I don't think we have the time to mess about trying to make things work when they're clearly not going to in the immediate future. Grab that next idea, and run with it.
Then when the creativity slows down, the the harder times come again, watch the wavelength.