Losing interest in a long-term project happens. I tend to get an idea, get all excited about it, start a notebook and start jotting down ideas, and then sometimes the idea never goes anywhere. Then, when it doesn’t immediately catch fire it begins to seem tainted and no matter what I do I can’t seem to get back to it.
But on the other hand, I have written two complete novels. (Actually, if you count the times I’ve rewritten those two novels, I’ve probably written about ten novels.) So what is it about them that keep me compelled?
Well, character and theme come to mind. For me, staying absorbed in a novel for the amount of time it takes to write the damn thing is all about characters who interest me, that face problems similar to what I confront, and then do odd and unexpected things in response. It is in the character’s reactions to conflict that themes emerge. And that is what keeps things interesting.
But that still doesn’t answer Jason’s question about how to stay on track. Several things spring to mind:
1. Write short stories. Ugh. Never mind. No, some people do like writing short stories and I admit to have written quite a few myself. But if you really want to write a novel–and to me, there is nothing more satisfying than immersing myself in the world of a longer story–than telling you to write short stories is not particularly helpful.
2. Preparation. Perhaps the reason some projects run out of steam is a lack of preparation. Its fun to sit down in the first blush of the idea and start writing. But then that initial buzz wears off and you start to wonder where your story is going, and what should your characters do next? Not knowing what happens next in your novel is the fastest way to get derailed that I know. So I advocate preparation. Nothing too detailed but at least take the time to give yourself a general idea of where you are going.
3. Force the issue. Confused about where to go next, perhaps because you didn’t follow my advice and prepare? Is it getting harder and harder to open the computer file that has your novel on it? Are you practicing avoidance and procrastination? Don’t give up the project quite yet. Try forcing the issue. Brainstorm. Make a list of 100 things that could happen in your novel. Write down 50 character traits. Make yourself write 5 descriptions of various places or things that might appear in your novel. Start making up lines of dialogue. And while you are doing all this, loosen up and play. Have fun. See where it all goes. Maybe it will lead you further on the road to finishing this current novel, or maybe it will lead you down a different writing path.
That’s the best thing about writing. Nothing is ever wasted. Even all those false starts may someday be resurrected and turn into something new. Or maybe the time simply wasn’t right for them. But that doesn’t mean your novel’s time won’t come around again.
So take heart. And keep writing down ideas. And, most important, just keep writing.
(By the way, I haven’t forgotten my vow of bringing you writing exercises. Stay tuned.)