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Pushing Through or Following Your Heart?

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I want to share a debate I’ve had with myself for a couple of weeks now. I’ve been going back and forth on this issue. Here’s the thing. I’m writing a novel. A novel is a big project. It takes a long time, and it’s hard to complete. I’ve been working on this particular one since February, and I’m doing pretty well. I know who my main characters are, where they start and where they'll end up. I also started writing some of the scenes (some of them are backstory so they won’t go into the manuscript). But then, at some point, I needed to stop working on this project for a bit. Sometimes, I need to let a project simmer on the back burner for a while. And in the meantime, I wrote some short stories. Some of the stories I wrote were very short, about 250 words (which is roughly one double-spaced page). Some of these were a little longer, 500-1500 words (which is 2-6 pages). I also started working on a longer story that's going pretty well.

And therein lies the problem. I got more excited about the short stories than about the novel. And there came a time when I didn't want to work on my book. I wanted to work on my shorts instead. Getting excited about the shorts is easy. They’re different every time, rather than the same old story I’ve been working on for months. I usually have the whole story in my head, so it takes me no time to finish them. I only need to type them. I edit them a little bit after, but because they are very short, it doesn’t take very long. At the same time, I’m currently a little stuck in my novel, as I’m trying to figure out how my characters will get where they need to go. And it’s possible that I’m trying to pull in too many strands into that story, which often ends up in a pile of threads on the floor rather than a beautifully woven masterpiece.

So, on the one hand, it's possible I need more time. My first novel simmered for about four years, for various reasons, before I was able to get it down. And even then, the story evolved as I was writing. On the other hand, I don't want to take four years to write this book. Besides, it’s possible I avoid working on that project because it’s more difficult than working on the shorts. Sometimes I have to keep writing and not leave the laptop until I’ve finished.

For example, yesterday I was working on a little story. It started as a writing exercise and morphed into a 5-pages long tale about grown-up Encyclopedia Brown and Sally Kimball. Several times during the writing session I stopped and thought, well, maybe I’ll work on something else for a bit. Only until I can find the right word to go here, or until I can figure out how to get to the next word on the list. But I pushed through and finished it. I got to where I wanted to go. So maybe I need to push through on my novel as well.

But then, when I push myself to work on my novel, especially if it’s every day, it becomes a chore. And sure, “99% perspiration and 1% inspiration” is a great soundbite, but I find that I must be inspired to write a good story. I can sit and write every day, but until I’ve tapped into that elusive “Flow” state, nothing good is happening on the virtual page.

I have no answers to this issue. For now, I decided that I want to write on average 500 words every workday on my novel and “use” the rest 1000 words on other stuff like blog posts and shorts. Notice that I’m aiming for an average of 500 a day, so that gives me a little bit of wiggle room. That way, if I have a dreadful day, I can counter it with a brilliant day at some other point in the week. I’ll let you know how it goes, of course.


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