A Novel Approach, pt. 4, (Cheating)

(Continued from yesterday.)

The interesting thing about my first two novels is that I was writing them both at roughly the same time. There was a lot of overlap between them. I’d work on one for a while, and then put it aside, and then I’d work on the other. Meanwhile, I was also working on several other projects—my dissertation, a nonfiction book, short stories. And then there was that pesky job of mine. All that damn teaching I have to do. Prepping for classes. Grading papers.

The reason I bring this up is that being in love with a project you’re working on is different from being in love with an actual human being in many ways, but especially in one very important respect: you can “cheat” on a project without breaking its heart.

Even if you love a project, your relationship with it isn’t always going to be a bed of roses. Yes, you’ll have that honeymoon period at the beginning when the dialogue is snappy, and the ideas are flowing, and you wake up every morning with a plan—or at least a vague intuition of where your characters are going next.

But if you’re at all like me, you’ll eventually hit a wall. You might run out of ideas. You might have too many ideas. You might just get spooked or tired, or you might make the mistake of going back and reading your first few sentences and suddenly thinking, “Oh, God, what am I doing?” And if you’re really like me, this all happens somewhere in the middle of your second paragraph.

When this happens, it’s okay to put a project aside and work on something else. It’s a twist on what young lovers have been saying to each other for years as they pack up and head off to college: Let’s agree to see other people, and if we’re really in love, we’ll know it when we’re with someone else and all we can think about is each other. The big difference, of course, is that your manuscript won’t be seeing other writers. Instead, you can just lock it away on your hard drive where no one else can see it. And then you can come back to it when you’re ready to make a full commitment. Or at least a partial commitment. Or, at the very least, to try picking up where you left off.

If it’s really love, you’ll know it.

(Continued tomorrow.)