I’m this >< close to giving up on the time travel story I mentioned a few weeks ago. It’s massive, complicated, and so far beyond outside the range of my knowledge and abilities that it’s not even in the same galaxy. Half the time, I don’t even realize I’m going down the wrong track, until someone else glances at it and immediately points out where and how I’ve screwed up. And it’s not a matter of fudging the details; these are major errors that are instantly obvious to any reader who has real experience with the subject, and require me to scrap entire chapters and start over if I want to retain any sort of credibility.
But every time I try to put it on the back burner, I start screaming at myself. Silently and only in my head, but screaming nonetheless. I’ve given up on everything else; I need to keep pushing through on at least one thing. Why it has to be this, I’m not sure.
I actually like writing this, when I’m writing it. All other times, I resent it for taking up brain cycles I need for other things. And because this mess isn’t complicated enough, I can’t seem to work on anything else. I’ve always been able to work on multiple projects at once. Not this time. So I’m stuck. I can’t get the time travel story to cooperate, and I can’t write other stories- one of which is a magazine submission with a deadline, so if I’m going to write it, I need to do it soon.
Allowing a story to fall by the wayside- temporarily or permanently- seems to be a common writerly experience. Purposely setting a story aside- saying, ‘continuing this is a waste of time’- seems to be less common. I’ve done it once before, on a regency romance that was essentially, a retelling of the previous book in the series, from a different POV. It was interesting, but not enough to hold a reader’s attention, so I finally said goodbye to it, and moved on to something else (it’s still on my hard drive, because I save everything).
I want to set aside the time travel story. It’s one of those things that would probably make decent money and entertain a lot of readers. If I could make it publishable, the odds of which are vanishingly small.
But it refuses to go away and won’t let me work on anything else. So I guess I’m going to push on it until something breaks. Might be the story; might be me. If you see a gigantic blue cloud hanging over the continental United States over the next few weeks, don’t worry. It’s just me, swearing, cursing, and blaspheming at this thing in a vain effort to get it to either shut up or get on the page.
(Cover image is, of course, not mine. Foxes in Love is one of my favorite webcomics, and you can find the print version here.)
Honestly, I wouldn’t worry about it, too much – I’ve sometimes put a book aside for months at a time because I got distracted by the prospect of other projects. I think I was about six or seven years finishing the Gold Rush novel. I’ve come back to half-completed books at least twice … and I have one half-written, even now. I set it aside to do the WWII novel, and now I have another installation of Luna City due … but I’ll get it all done, eventually.
Or, if it won’t leave you alone, just write the damned thing and don’t let anyone look at it until it’s done and you’ve moved on. Go back and fix the science when you have time.
Note – this advice is given by someone who has been stuck on page one of her short story for years because one character keeps acting not-like-Mom. Maybe just ignore me.
“… these are major errors that are instantly obvious to any reader who has real experience with the subject, and require me to scrap entire chapters and start over if I want to retain any sort of credibility.”
So I heard something interesting go by in this — a story where it’s actually about the wrong trips; time gets to the point of impossible, then resets, or sometimes backtracks. Not exactly Groundhog Day; rather an exploring of branches trying to find the one that works.
Blake, write it. Don’t let anyone else look at it until you have the rough draft finished. You know there will be issues with it. But a story like that will only become more insistent the longer you take to get that first draft finished. Once that’s done, you can hand it off to an Alpha reader with the warning that you know there are issues and you will address them. But, with it done, you can then move on to something else, reminding yourself you need to get some space between the draft and rewrite.
And if you’ve written the end, anyone giving feedback on the parts they think are wrong will know what your purpose is and be able to be more helpful about what sort of changes would work without derailing the whole thing.
Stop doing rewrites as you go along and finish the first draft. This is the one you write behind closed doors and no one should read it. Then, when you’re done, set it aside and do the other writing. After a while, come back to the time travel doorstop.
With it’s finished and you know where the story wants to go, it might prove more amenable to being rewritten. And if it isn’t, it can go back into the trunk and rest comfortably for another year or so.
It’s out of your head, no longer occupying precious space.
Easier said than done, I know! But you can do it.
Blake! Blake! Blake! Blake! Blake!
Seriously, let your writer self do its crazy thing and finish it. Your editor self and your second draft self can hold a story polishing meeting later.
“Half the time, I don’t even realize I’m going down the wrong track, until someone else glances at it and immediately points out where and how I’ve screwed up.”
It’s a fricking TIME TRAVEL story, Blake. Nobody knows how it works, it isn’t a thing. You can make up anything you want. Time travel using magic snails! They go so slow it breaks the time barrier!
Write. It. Then fix the stupid parts later. I do that all the time. 20 pages of improper winking and cow eyes between the werewolf and the thief? Yep. Write it. Later I condense it to one wink and a single cow eye. Too much non-PG-13 activity? Write it! Pull the curtain over it later. FTL physics is wrong? Too bad! There’s no such thing as FTL, I can make it however I want. I might even be able to come up with something the reader hasn’t seen before a million times.
Always remember, bad writing is still better than -no- writing. Anybody can scoff, but can they write?
It took me a decade to write A Diabolic Bargain because I was mastering the form of a novel. Two long hiatuses in there.
Diabolical, of course. sigh I should sleep soon.
To quote from a Neil Gaiman account: OH! I you’re at THAT part of the book.
The story he told (nanowrimo pep talk many years ago) was he hit a point with one of his books where he was stuck, done, and considering a career in something like dentistry (I don’t remember exactly what career.) He called his agent and said so. Her response was: oh! You’re at THAT part of the book.
Dean Wesley Smith speaks about the 1/3 point of a book as a major slowdown point.
What you’re going through appears to be quite normal (though for me it’s the 2/3rds point where every hits molasses) The answer is, as those with far more experience than I have said: keep writing.
I will echo a bit of Mr. Smiths advice that has helped me: Trust the process. Keep writing.
You didn’t know it, but there are time travel imps. Yep, fairie creatures who delight in causing trouble for time travelers. Being supernatural themselves, they have the power to affect time and also physics. All those science problems your readers keep pointing out? Imps. Little bastards. Your protagonist might be the first person to have a conversation with one, to capture one.
Whot Mrs. Green said. Make your art. Finish your story. (Badly, if need be). And keep going. Progress appears to be this weird two steps forward / one step back / three steps forward / three steps back / one step forward phenomenon, which can feel terrible. And yet when you do the math, you are always further along
You are dumb, ugly, your mother dresses you funny, and you will never earn the love of a good man.
This is me channeling your inner demons.
Now that’s out of the way, we’ve never met in person, but I’ve edited some of your work, read others for fun, and you are not only an author, you my fine young lade are a story teller. And that in my considered opinion is the highest praise I can offer.
My advice, drive a stake in the heart of the bloody thing by finishing a rough draft. Then if you want advice one of my favorite authors owes me a favor or ten so I will persuade her to have a look at it. That would be your MIL by the way. Help with medical procedures, bet you know someone. Space operations or weapons advice ping me. Time travel, best go with your gut, or that very fertile brain behind your eyes.
Search out a copy of Channel Markers, Heinlein’s address to the Naval Academy cadets from back in ’73. Some of it’s dated, but still a solid look into his processes. If you cannot find it, doubtful living as you do in the midst of Heinlein fanatics, but if so let me know and I’ll correct the lack.
And as in all things, this too shall pass. Buck up it does get better.
Keep going, Blake. Stop showing the draft to people and WRITE. I always hit two slogs when I’m doing anything. One’s at about a third of the way in, when I have no idea if this will work, and it’s sooooooo far to the end. The second is about two-thirds through, and I have no idea how to connect the front part of the book with the ending (however it is going to end) and I have so many plot threads to resolve, and this stinks, and it’s terrible, and readers will hate me!
Not every book is worth finishing. But every book you LOVE is.
No matter how badly you’re screwing things up, just keep going.
Everything can be revised.
First draft exists so you can make mistakes, break the story, write characters that must be removed or condensed later, flood the damn thing with factual errors and inconsistencies and downright contradictions. And further, you’re allowed to be frustrated, and allowed to write in “[HERE’S WHERE I PULL THE RABBIT OUT OF MY HAT THAT FIXES THIS SHIT]” and then just keep going, pretending that line solves the problem you can’t yet figure out how to solve.
Get to then ending, let it sit for a month to get cold… and then revise it into the book you love
What makes you so sure you’ve screwed up? ALL time travel stories have logical flaws. As readers we overlook those for the fun of the story. But if you go and show your partial draft to somebody and ASK them to find flaws, they will.
And as Holly said, every book can be revised. (But it can’t be revised if you don’t write it.)
Yeah, I don’t read time travel stories because of a love of seeing the physics done exactly right. If we can’t experimentally verify time travel, there is no way for us to even know what exactly right would be.
I read time travel stories for other reasons.
Sure, I think the idea of a really hard sci fi time travel story sounds interesting, but what I’m actually into reading now is kung fu wizards who are sometimes gangsters.
If you are stuck on writing something because “I can not do it properly”, then the design to specify that it be ‘proper’ is the mistake. Write what you gotta write, fixing it or finding the audience is a problem for later.
I don’t know whether this helped the writer of this post, but it sure helped me. I’ve been stuck on a story about 2/3 of the way through. It has just SAT there for almost 10 months.
I’m going to follow your advice – just write the damn thing.
Thanks for all the encouragement, ladies and gents! You’re giving good advice- advice that I’ve given in the past.
I sense a bit of confusion, because I wasn’t specific enough: I’m not making mistakes re: time travel. The time travel itself is handwaved. My mistakes are appearing because the main character ends up an officer in the US Army, and I’m a lifelong civilian. So I don’t even know if the characters are getting into realistic situations, and when it turns out the situation is unrealistic, I have to make changes.
And I’ve shown a piece of the first chapter to other writer friends (to see if I got the emotions right), a couple of conversational exchanges (because they’re funny), and a few quotable lines (also because, funny). And I’ve asked a few questions of people who have the knowledge I’m looking for. First, second, third drafts are staying firmly on my computer, because, yes, it’s best to have a complete or mostly complete draft before handing it to an alpha or beta reader.
So we’re all on the same track, and it may even be the right one.
I wrote ONE time travel book. Went cross-eyed trying to keep it straight. I don’t outline, but that one had to be diagrammed.
I read it three times to try to figure out if there was a straight to be kept. I’m still not sure. Marketing tip of the day: Mention the title! Time Loop kind of gives away some of the confusion in the story.