One of the hardest things about letting go of Sparks is dealing with the expression on people’s faces when I tell them I’m putting it aside and working on something else. BUT YOU WERE ALMOST FINISHED!, they say. Yeah, no, I wasn’t.
Not even close.
YOU’RE GIVING UP, they cry. QUITTING! DON’T DO IT. HOLD FAST! BE STRONG! KIA KAHA!
And then I punch them in the teeth.
It’s exhausting, and it’s horrible, and it’s just not POSSIBLE for someone who has never written a novel to understand how I could want to give up so close to being done. Or how far from being done I actually am.
(Em, if you’re reading this, this is not directed at you — but should hopefully go some way to explaining why I bit your head off and changed the subject when you brought it up last night.)
I can say that you don’t know how hard it is to write a novel until you’ve written a novel, but that statement, by definition, means you don’t know how hard it is to write a novel until you’ve written a novel. You can grasp it intellectually and accept that it’s probably harder than you think, and in the process of writing you begin to discover the truth of it, but you can’t KNOW until you have written. A first novel is always going to be a blind fumble. No matter how many books you read, how much you plan, how many agent blogs you follow, how detailed your outline, how anal your plotting… you’re still feeling your way in the dark.
Sparks is a mess. It’s not a terrible mess, but it’s not the kind of mess I can fix with a red pen and a better-worded sentence. This doesn’t mean I’m asking for pity, or doubt myself, or even think it sucks — just that it’s a first novel. It was a dry run, a first attempt. Things happened that I didn’t expect; things didn’t work that I thought would. I was still working out how to weave an A plot and a B plot together, how to build scenes and characters, how to balance dialogue and description…
(Oh man, even writing this is making me want to lie down and cry, because all the non-writers are hearing is QUITTER! QUITTER, SCAREDY BABY QUITTER!)
Could I fix it? Maybe. If I gave it another six or nine months and pulled the whole thing apart and re-wrote massive, massive sections of it. MAYBE I could make it be what I intended. But it would be a phenomenal amount of work, and I’m only convinced I could make it better. And better is not even remotely the same as good. And it would still be YA, and a mystery, and in first person. It would still be something that feels like a trial, like I was trying to work out who I wanted to be, rather than something I actually am.
At this point, the only reason I’d consider keeping going is because some days it seems easier than admitting to everyone that I gave up, and no you can’t read it, and no I won’t finish it, and yes it will probably spend eternity with [INSERT SCENE WITH PARENTS HERE] markers from my last incomplete set of revisions.
I hate those things. I understand why everyone else hates those things. But that’s not a reason that’s worth nine months or a year of my life. If I cared passionately about this story — if I thought this book could be salvaged, and made to be great, and to represent me and my writing and what I want to say to the world — I would do whatever it took. I’m not quitting for the sake of quitting. I’m also not going through a rough patch or in need of some positive reinforcement.
This isn’t a decision I’ve come to lightly. I’ve been a fucking mess about it, to be brutally honest. I’ve cried myself to sleep; I’ve stayed awake all night. I’ve eaten far, far too much KFC. I’ve agonised and agonised, but at the end of the day this isn’t the book I want to be writing. It doesn’t feel right, and that’s the beginning and the end of every argument I can have with myself about it.
This didn’t happen yesterday or last week or even last month. I wrote the first sentence of this book well over two years ago — I’ve lived with these characters and this world every single day for the last 14 months, and I’ve mourned this shit like nobody’s business. I’ve been through denial, and anger, and then I spent a month or so making bargains with myself — keep editing while you’re still plotting After, fix chapter one and you can buy new shoes!, if you work out what needs to change, you don’t have to do it until you feel better about it — and then, sho’nuff, depression hit. I’ve sobbed on the phone to my mother at 1am. I’ve spent days eating chocolate and watching DVDs in my pajamas. If I had known how to locate a container ship to Guatemala, I would have hopped one.
Trust me, I’m not just burnt out. I don’t just need to take a break. There isn’t a course I can do or a class I can take. I won’t get over it. I can’t push past it or work through it.
I’ve made my decision, and more importantly, I think I’ve finally accepted my decision.
I woke up this morning and for the first time, I felt like I could live with those [INSERT SCENE WITH PARENTS HERE] markers. My ribcage feels 10 pounds lighter. I’m not chained to this thing anymore, to this idea of how I wanted things to go or my own fear of failure and obsession with perfection. I have to live with those things, but I’m making the right decision. I have a new idea; a vastly, exponentially BETTER idea, and I’m going to let myself focus on it. I learned what I needed to from Sparks, and I’m happy with what I did. But I have to let it go.
So, bless you, people I love. I appreciate you only want the best for me, I really do. But if you tell me I’ve come too far to give up one more time, I will knife you in the face.
Sigh. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drink until I throw up on myself. In the good way.