Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Long Haul

When you first start out, it’s all you think about. It’s so exciting, and you spend every waking moment you can doing it. After a little while, things are still going great. You’ve become more familiar, so it’s not quite exciting as it once was, but it’s nice… comfortable. Everything just clicks naturally. A little more time passes and though you still see why you fell in love, you’re getting a bit tired of the same old problems, the same chores. Even the good times are getting a little predictable. You’re not planning on ending it—you have far too much invested, and after all, you still love it deep down. But you have to find something to get you through the grind. You’re in a long-term relationship… with your poetry manuscript.

I am about two years and six months into a book-length project that is nowhere near finished. I love the project, though, and have every intention of completing it. I’ve invested one and a bit years of school-driven hard-work on the book, and one and a bit years of full-time working and slacking off on the project (though in my defense, I did get other poetry things accomplished over the year). Though I am dedicated to the project, it’s slowly becoming a burden. I feel like I can’t in good conscience start another big, research-based project until I finish this one, but I have a long list of new ideas that I want to dive into. If I start something else, I’m afraid I’ll never return to the book. And like I said, I do love the project, and I really, really want to finish it. Breaking up is not an option.

So how do I make it through? First, a little perspective is helpful. Compared to other authors, 2 ½ years is nothing. Many of my favourite writers have spent 10 or more years on their books. If I want to finish the project and do it well, it may take several more years, a fact I will just have to accept. It’s difficult not to feel slightly discouraged, though, if not impatient, which brings me to my second strategy… time management. I’m beginning to think that setting aside 30 minutes every single day, sick or well, rain or shine, busy or bored to work on my book will mean that in another year when I look back on the project, I’ll be able to see the progress I’ve made. Furthermore, I’ve discovered that working on other little side projects reinvigorates me. Instead of sitting down to work on my book and thinking, “oh, this again,” working on other mini-projects gets me excited about writing, and excited about my book.

The one problem I haven’t entirely overcome yet, however, is the loneliness of working on long project outside of school. Finishing the book means many, many more hours of sitting alone in my office, carving and whittling, sanding and polishing, forming and reforming bits over and over again. Having gotten used to a creative writing program where I spent hours every week discussing my work with my classmates or professors, adjusting to the isolation of writing outside of school has been difficult. Of course I still have writer friends to discuss poetry with, but my lifestyle as a writer has changed forever. I’m not quite sure what to do about this problem. If I’m working on a visual piece I listed to CBC podcasts or put on familiar movies to fill the air, but the written components of my work require less background chatter. I think, ultimately, this is one part of being a post-university writer that I will just have to get used to. Though I love giving readings and chatting up friends about what they’re working on and sharing what I’m writing, and though I love writing itself, I will have to get used to spending more time alone with the book. In most relationships, if your partner required that you abandon your social life in order to stay home alone with them all the time, you would probably consider them controlling and obsessive. If it’s your book that requires this, however, I guess you just have to accept it.

So—how do you keep motivated after years of working on a project? What snags have you hit, and how did you overcome them?

Helen Hajnoczky has managed to finish one book, now available from Snare Books.

2 comments:

Camille Martin said...

In my experience, manuscripts have a mind of their own. They seem to "know" when they need to be on the back burner for a while, maybe because my (more or less) conscious mind isn't yet ready to continue the writing or editing, to push through to make the thing sing. But back burner doesn't necessarily mean out of sight, out of mind b/c processes seem to be stewing unbeknownst to me and when the ms seems to "want" to be picked up again, I can see what obstacles were preventing me from continuing the project. There's a natural rhythm that for me, can't be forced, and so I try not to feel guilty about laying a manuscript aside for a while. I can use the time to work on another ms, or I can do research for the project that might spark inspiration now or later. It's mysterious and a little scary b/c I don't have access to that roiling around, but then not knowing just what is happening or what is going to happen and when can be a pleasure, too, and can lead to unexpected places.

Lima said...

I just read this post in Maisonneuve and came back to leave a comment, I participated in the 3 day novel contest and ever since my little characters have been on my mind. I supposed it helps that they are based on figured in my real life, but you're right, I've only just realized that it may take me years and years to complete just one novel, but I intend on doing it, whether it gets "officially" published or I wind up simply publishing it as an ebook for friends and family to read. All I know is, I'd really like to finish the darn thing, no matter how long it takes. Keep fighting the good fight.