Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Dreaded Slump

Every novel I've written has one: a point in the process where I can't remember why I'm writing this piece. I call it the slump. Maybe it should be The Slump. As obstacles go, it's worthy of the proper-noun capitalization. The slump is when the excitement of new characters, new settings, the whole story has been worn away from hours and days of familiarity, and the story has stretched in my mind. It's no longer a series of key points on a storyboard; now it's 100,000+ words of events and dialog and decisions and characterisations to keep track of.

The slump is when it all feels foggy. The beginning is so far in the past, started 123 days ago, before New Years and Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween. The novel has taken twists I didn't foresee, characters have warped and changed as they've come to life, making storyboarded plot points no longer logical. The novel has ballooned, as I knew it would do, but as I fought so very hard to prevent.

The end seems so far away.

I circle through the current scenes in my head, pondering their importance—not to the story, but to my life, my happiness, my world and the world of others. Does this book matter? Is it worth writing? Is it worth others' time to read? Will it sell, or simply take up hard drive space like the stories before it? Has it simply been a really, really long writing practice?

The problem with the slump is that I have no perspective. I'm bogged down in the quicksand of the story, trapped at the edge of an event horizon of my own making. I can't make good decisions from this perspective. I can't tell if what I've written is complete crap, as half of me honestly expects, or brilliant—or at least worthy of a read—as the other half expects.

But I know two things about the slump. One: Every book has one. There's a point in the writing of every story where it's impossible to separate the world and the art from the work and the toiling and the drudgery of continuing to write when so many other ideas sound so much more appealing and releasing this project to work on something else seems the wisest use of my time.

Two: Stopping now is the worst thing I could do. I stopped at this point in last year's NaNo Novel. I'd completed the challenge. Fifty thousand words were logged and recorded, and the story felt...adrift. It no longer felt like the story I wanted to work on, and it had become a drain on my resources, preventing me from focusing on selling a different novel I'd written. So I stopped, shelved it.

I have been haunted by its characters ever since. It's now the next project in the queue. It needs to be reworked and redone, completely, not simply edited, but it need to be written, if only so that it stops looping through my thoughts.

There's one other thing I know about the slump, and it's fuels my dedication: the slump never lasts. This book, like all the books before it, if given the chance, will get its second wind and become exciting again.

Thus, like so many of the hurdles that writing a novel presents, I'll continue to practice the one, true method of persevering: sitting my butt in my writing chair and writing daily. It's the only way a novel is ever complete. It's the only way a scene is ever perfected. It's the only way a slump is overcome.

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