Starting a work of fiction is never a problem for me. I have plenty of ideas – too many, really – all clamoring to be let out and acknowledged. I’ve jotted down hundreds of ideas and more than a dozen openings. No, starting is not an issue.
I don’t mean finished rough drafts, although that can be tricky. I think of new projects to start, begin reading a book, or get distracted on the computer. When I’m really stuck, even chores seem preferable. If I force myself to keep going, I’ll eventually get somewhere. That’s why deadlines like NaNoWriMo are so helpful. Once I have a draft, though, the real trouble begins. For me, it’s always a draft. I can’t manage to mold my efforts into an acceptable final product.
I try. I really do. I nip and tuck, shaving off words and sentences and scenes. I tweak dialogue, fine tune call backs. I am, I tell myself virtuously, polishing. The story is done.
Then I have an idea for a new character, plot line, or chapter. I wrestle with myself for a while before giving up and trying to sneak it in somewhere. Sometimes it’s a better fit than others. Every time, it sends up ripples. Scenes must be adjusted. Plot reworked. Everything has to be shifted the perfect amount, or you can tell that element doesn’t belong.
Eventually, I work that out. I flick through again to primp some sentences and sit back to admire the finished product. I can’t see anything wrong with it.
Then I put it away and look back in a few months.
Clunky sentences accost me from all sides. Poor phrasing. Awkward dialogue. Jumps in character development (or no development at all). It’s a mess. It’s embarrassing. How could I ever have thought this was ok?
I don’t know how may people have this problem, but it plagues me. When I’ve been working on something too long, I can’t see it properly. I gloss over it and don’t register flaws, weaknesses, or outright errors. It’s like my brain threw up its hands, said “I’m done”, and left. If I manage to realize what’s going on, I take a break for a while. Only then can I really make an impact.
This brings me to my finishing problem. The errors never seem to go away. I’ll ‘perfect’ a piece, put it away, pull it out, think it’s crap, ‘perfect’ it, repeat ad nauseam. It never seems to end. I can’t get a piece to a place where I think it’s done and I always will.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says that finishing a book is like putting an octopus to bed. There will always be a tentacle or two hanging out. You just have to know when you’re finished.
At this point, though, I’m afraid my stuff has at least a dozen tentacles hanging out. So back to work I go.