Friday, November 14, 2008

I have a milk crate.

Ask a particpant in NaNoWriMo, I recieved weekly pep talk letters from some published authors to try and keep me motivated. This week's, however motivating it may be, discusses what could possibly be my biggest flaw as a writer. Check it out:

"Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

I know what you’re doing. You’re thinking about cheating, aren’t you?

Ha! Caught you!

Come on. One cheater knows another. You think I’ve never been there?

Maybe for some of you it’s not too late: you haven’t crossed the line…maybe you’re just entertaining the idea of abandoning the story you’re currently working on.

Maybe you’re just thinking of taking a break to jot down a few notes about the story you just thought of--that ultra-fresh, totally cool, sure-to-be-a-bestseller you dreamed up the other morning while you were supposed to be figuring out where you took the wrong turn on your work-in-progress.

But I’m here to let you know: That’s how it starts. The next thing you know, you’re doing character sketches. Then a little dialogue. Then whole scenes.

And then you’re through. You’ve given up on your work-in-progress entirely, and the next thing you know, you’ve started working full-time on this new story you thought up. I know only too well what comes next. The excuses. The rationalization: “So what? So I switched stories. I’ve still got a work-in-progress. It’s just not my original work-in-progress. So I’m a little behind in my word count. I’m still writing, right?”

Sure, it seems innocent enough. But the problem with doing this is that of course the new story always seems better than that old busted up, out-of-control story you’ve been working on for so long. That new story has the aura of dewy freshness to it. It’s calling to you! It’s all, “Yoo-hoo…look at me! I don’t have any plot problems and my characters are way-intriguing and some of them wear leather jackets and oh, yeah, you know that weird transition thing you’ve got going on near chapter four that you can’t figure out? I don’t have that!”

I know. It sounds good.

But how long until some other story idea comes along and twitches its enticing little characters at you, and you decide to abandon this new one for it? How many words will you have then?

Not enough for a whole book, that’s how many. And here’s the thing: If you keep doing this, you never will.

Do you think I haven’t been there? Cheating on your current work-in-progress with a new one is the oldest trick in the book! I have a plastic milk crate crammed full of stories I started and never finished because I cheated on them, then got so enamored of my new story, I never went back to the old one. Over and over and over again.

And that, my friends, is how you never finish a book. Take it from someone who has hundreds (maybe even a few thousand) of unfinished stories because of this phenomenon.

So stop right now! Stop using a new story idea (or whatever excuse you’ve come up with) to avoid the work you still have to do on your current work-in-progress!

Put the Shiny New Story away for later, when you’re done with your WIP! If your Shiny New Story is that good, it will still be there waiting for you.

And please…don’t end up like me, with a plastic milk crate full of half-finished stories. Think about what made you fall in love with your work-in-progress in the first place. Shower it with the attention it deserves.

And whatever you do, don’t let it end up in the Milk Crate of Shame. Think of where we’d be if all the great stories we love today ended up there, uncared for and forgotten by their authors, because they got distracted by some Shiny New Idea while they were working.

Take a deep breath. There. Feel better?

Yeah. So do I.

Now let’s get back to work.

And about the cheating…I won’t tell if you won’t.


Meg Cabot is the author of the Princess Diaries series and the soon-to-be-released Abandon. You can learn more about her and her work by visiting her website."

Le sigh. I can think of at least six things in my milk crate. I haven't strayed off the good path yet - I'm still writing the same project I started for NaNoWriMo. Sticking to it after November will be a test. Will I make it adn stick with this story post NaNoWriMo? Or get distracted by something shiney...

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