Aborting the novel

In the last four days, I’ve written about 37,100 words. Writing them was surprisingly easy. At no time did I feel “blocked”. But ever since the first thousand or so, I’ve been plagued by doubts as to the quality of the work.

About an hour and a half ago, I wrote a sentence, and I thought to myself, “I can’t do this anymore.” The sentence was bad. Most of the sentences that had preceded it were bad. Structurally, the novel was fairly sound (hey, I plotted it out with a synopsis and everything). But I had a strong sense that on a sentence-by-sentence level, the writing was cliche and awkward.

I usually don’t have the sense that my work is bad. Usually, I am extremely enthusiastic about it while I am writing it. I’ve previously written two novels that were significantly flawed, but while I was writing both of them, I had no doubts as to their merits.

For a long time, I thought I might be fooling myself. I thought that the novel might actually be good in a way that I was too close to it to see. But I don’t think so. I trust my own aesthetic judgment. It’s been good to me. And I no longer wish to try to work against it.

I kept going for the last few days because I thought, “Hey, what’s the big deal. A week or two more work and then I’ll have a novel. If it sucks, then so what? I’ll toss it in the trash.” But I just can’t keep forcing myself to work on something that I don’t believe in.

When I was at Clarion, Samuel Delany said to our class, “Writing bad stories doesn’t teach you to write good stories; it just teaches you to write more bad stories”. Although this advice nags at me and sometimes feels to me to be fundamentally false, I also think it has alot of explanatory power. There are not alot of people who are even attempt to explain why one writer turns out cliche, awkwardly-written stories and another writer turns out good ones. Most attribute the difference to the ten thousand hours: the good writer must’ve practiced more than the bad one. But this is clearly not the entire answer. Many bad writers have written reams and reams of books. Surely at some point they must’ve gotten enough practice to write a good one?

I’m afraid that if I keep writing this one, then I’ll only be relearning how to write badly. And I’m also afraid that I will stunt my judgment. So, yeah, I’m putting a pin in this one. It’s not a total loss. I think the first part of what I’ve written might work as a novella, and I’ll explore the possibility of revising it into one.

I am also going to shelve the whole Mythmakers idea for now. For five years, it’s stood as a barrier between me and my next novel. But I think it’s time to cut my losses. I think it’s just too chilly and science-fictional and epic for me. I’m not sure that I am that kind of writer anymore. When I was 21, I loved vast mind-bending ideas. Now I write smaller, subtler stories. It was exactly this sort of subtlety that I think was missing from this manuscript.

In addition (and this is the saddest announcement of all), I think I am going to abandon two-week novel-writing. Last spring, it was an amazing experience. This spring, it led to perhaps the worst four days of my life. I’m not sure that I want novel-writing to be such an emotionally intense endeavor. I’d prefer to just plug away at things for a few months or a year. Slow and steady is going to be my mantra from now on.

Furthermore, I think that I might have hit the limits of the kind of quality I can wring from writing very fast. When I compare this novel to my last novel, I feel like I am seeing the difference between a very ambitious, poorly-executed work and an unambitious, well-executed work. The latter can often be enjoyable, exciting, and, sometimes, memorable. The former is almost always quite boring. I don’t want to write unambitious stories, but I fear that if I kept trying to write novels in two weeks, then I would soon begin limiting myself to unambitious ideas.

Anyways, guys, I hope you understand. I did make a big deal of announcing my novel-writing endeavors because I hoped that the chance of public embarassment would keep me writing. But…I’m actually not particularly motivated by shame. Woops.

Hey everyone, don’t expect anything out of me for the next fifteen days. I am writing a novel.

I think the title of this post says it all. By the time you read this, I will hopefully have started. This is going to be my third novel. It’s been gestating since May of 2007, and I think it’s time to finally write it down. This time, I’ve already written a synopsis and everything. I’ll probably be posting a few blog updates, but I plan on not having any social engagements (or, really, going further than six blocks from my apartment) for the next fifteen days. The book’s working title is The Mythmakers, but that’s definitely not going to be the final title.