While working on my novel By Virtue Fall, I discovered that a long passage comprising several chapters wasn’t adding anything to the story. In fact, it was just a distraction, and it had to go.
Some writers concentrate on just getting the story out there in their first draft, rough edges and all. I’m a fiddler. I look at what I’ve written each day and adjust it. It’s my way of getting back into the zone.
Unfortunately, when I reviewed what I’d written recently, I discovered I’d wandered way off track. I had to admit it — it wasn’t adding to the story. A doomed tangent now on its way to the bin.
A Painful Discovery
It’s painful when you’ve laboured over many thousands of words only to discover they’re unnecessary. That kind of thing’s exactly what’s thrown some of my previous projects over a cliff edge. All that wasted effort was just too painful. It made me doubt myself and so I packed up and went home.
I’ve been trying to figure out how I can become a more resilient writer. I wrote about the Narrator in this post — the arch critic who lives behind my eyes. Dealing with self criticism is rough — and I noticed a big contrast with my response to setbacks as a writer when compared to what I do at work.
My Work Persona
I’m a CEO, have been for years. I’m used to high pressure, intrusive scrutiny from regulators and politicians and hitting plans when the going gets tough. You must be resilient, willing to endure, persist — and when I thought about it, this is so different to the attitude I’ve been bringing to my writing.
As a writer, I’m a more delicate flower, apparently. All too easily bruised, quickly knocked off course, poor at handling disappointment.
The Consequences of Failure
Why is that in one world, I’m as tough as teak and in another I’m… let’s face it — a wimp? I reckon it’s because I’ve been dishonest with myself about the consequences of failure as a writer.
It’s been too easy to quit quietly and without fanfare. You just stop showing up for a while and slowly the flame dies. Eventually you move on. Other than me, no-one notices.
So I’ve raised the stakes.
I’m making the consequences of failure bigger, louder and more visible.
I’ve installed a progress bar on the homepage, like the one below. The purple bar shows how far along I am (15,700 words out of a target 90,000 as of today). The second bar in green shows how far I’d got before I realised I was in a blind alley.
Where I am Today (as at 27 July 2019)
When The Deadend Hit
I’ve done this is to make myself more accountable. I’ve told my family there will be a first draft to read by Christmas.
I’ll update it every week. It means I’m burning my bridges — removing any chance of hiding failure.
Never Let The Dream Die
I’ve got to be better at handling setbacks and disappointments as a writer. It’s my attitude that has to improve. It’s as though I’ve forgotten or cannot access the hard-won qualities I’ve developed which serve me well while at work.
When writing I react to setbacks in ways I wouldn’t tolerate when at work. My whole career has taught me that anything worthwhile is usually hard to achieve. Setbacks and complications lead to changes of approach all the time.
That’s all okay too, because it’s what will ultimately get the job done.
I’ve sometimes spent months on a work project only for an unforeseen event to derail it at the last moment. When that happens I have to remember I’m the CEO.
So, I knuckle down and look for alternative ways to bring home the bacon. You’re only finished when you stop moving, right?
Why Can’t I Treat Writing More Like Work?
So why the heck do I crumple like cardboard in the rain when my writing runs into a siding? That’s not how you get things done — and I know this too.
The question is, why don’t I become more like the ‘me’ at work — the tough, pragmatic guy who sticks at it, through thick and thin?
Why can’t I treat writing more like work?
I understand writing a novel’s a creative process, but it’s still a process. You start somewhere with a vision of what you want to accomplish. Then you make a plan — unless you’re a Pantser (see here). 1Even Pantsers have routines, habits and disciplines that ensure they get it done.
Then all that’s left is that you stick at it until it’s done.
Be Serious About Writing
Writing can be joyful, stimulating and entertaining. It can also crush your soul when ideas dry up, your characters mutiny and refuse to behave, and your dialogue reads like a call centre conversation.
After years of not completing my writing projects, I’m more confident that with a fresh mindset more aligned to what I’ve learnt at work, I’ll get my novel over the line.
Time will tell. But I’ve made myself a promise.
I will bring a CEO’s mindset to my writing practice. That’s a mindset which adjusts to setbacks. My experience tells me that such difficulties are only a normal part of achieving something worthwhile.
When something unfortunate happens, I will not give in. I’ll recognise it then tell myself it’s a normal and inevitable part of making anything of value. I will tell myself, whatever’s happened has occurred.
I will consider what I’ve learnt and move on. It’s what successful people do.