For the past 5 years (4 months and 4 days) there has been a place where my writing momentum has gone to die. I say a place, but it’s really a story, one particular short story to be exact. This is separate from my usual bouts of procrastination or writer’s block—the terrifying certainty that this time I really have run out of ideas. I don’t lack ideas when it comes to this story. I can be so accurate about the years and months and days because I finished outlining the story on September 19, 2008. It wasn’t just a few notes jotted down, or vague concepts. It was a proper outline—setting, characters, plot—all laid out, ready to be written. And I recall being very excited by the idea in 2008 and raring to write. Since it was historical, it required some research before I could begin, but I enjoyed the research, and at the time managed to avoid falling into the research/procrastination hole I can be susceptible to. At the time I tried to handwrite all my first drafts, so I began writing, and that’s when things started to fall apart.
I wrote the first sentence. I wrote the second sentence. I’d had those in mind since the idea first came to me. I stopped. I decided to switch the order of the sentences. I wrote the first paragraph. I rewrote the first paragraph. I rechecked some facts (there’s that research/procrastination hole I was mentioning). I got busy with other things—life, the universe, and everything. Eventually, I returned to the story. I wasn’t as happy with it as I had been, but I still liked it. I rewrote the first paragraph to get back into the flow of things. I got writer’s block, or distracted by another project, or distracted by life. Something always happened. Sometimes I even made it as far as the fourth or fifth paragraph. Sometimes.
This doesn’t mean the past 5 years have been a barren wasteland. In that period my tally of complete stories has climbed into double digits and I’ve written hundreds of pages of varying degree of usefulness and quality. And every time I finish a story or a project, I wonder if I should start on something new or return to old faithful, still fully outlined, still sitting on my hard drive waiting to destroy my momentum yet again. It got to the point that I could feel it happening: my will to write dissolving, my doubts multiplying. I still don’t know why.
But the why no longer matters, because this month I finally did it. I finished the story! I’m not entirely sure why this time was different. This time I got through it. I’ve been more organized in my writing habits lately—logging start and end times, taking note of word counts. I’ve also been taking the time before I start writing to plan out what specifically I’m going to write this session. It helps to know, even if I change my mine. It helps to have mini-goals I can check off and feel productive. Perhaps that gave me the final push, but perhaps not. After all, I could feel the old habits creeping in. I stopped writing for days at a time; I felt the urge to go back and reedit and rewrite, the dreadful certainty that the story was terrible. I read it over the other day and it’s not half as bad as I thought it would be/feared it was. It’s a first draft, and like all drafts it needs work, probably lots of work. But it is finished. I reached the end. In the long run this probably means very little. I haven’t banished writer’s block or anything so superhuman. However, I did just get through my largest manifestation of writer’s block, after 5 years of trying and that has to count for something. Or maybe it just means my next bout is right around the corner. It was only the first draft, after all…