Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Knowing when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em

I retweeted this link to an article by Max Barry (Jennifer Government, Machine Man) today and, as you can see above, I declared it 'excellent'.

The premise is that if you're finding it hard to write it's not your fault, it's the book's fault.

"When your scene won’t quite come together, your novel idea won’t stay interesting, your main character refuses to fill out: it’s not because you lack talent. It’s because your idea is stupid. You’re trying to push shit uphill. And you may be a good shit-pusher, with a range of clever and effective shit-pushing techniques, but still: it’s going to be hard, frustrating, and ultimately you’ll discover you still don’t have your shit together."

It was like a revelation to me, because pretty much every day lately has felt like pushing shit uphill.

But, on reflection, while this may be true for Max Barry, maybe I'm just trying to give myself an easy out. Because I have a lot of ideas swimming around in my head, I'm constantly plagued by the thought that whatever project I'm not working on is better than the one I am working on.

And Barry describes this exact process. He worked through writer's block by giving these ideas a chance to emerge.

"The way I got out of it was to write a page of something new every day. The first week, I flushed out a lot of ideas that had been humming around the back of my brain, promising me they were brilliant. They weren’t. I captured them one page at a time and set them aside. The second week I wrote two things that were kind of interesting. Not very interesting. But not abominations, either. It was possible to imagine that in some alternate universe of very low standards, they could become novels. Not popular novels. But still.

"The third week, I wrote something interesting. And I discovered I could write. That the reason I’d been stuck wasn’t because I’d forgotten where the keys were. It was because the story I was trying to make work sucked."

I fear that if I tried the Max Barry strategy, I'd end up with lots of one-pagers, and not much else.

So what do you think? When is it time to cut your losses? And when is it worth pushing the shit uphill?

Leave a comment or tweet me.

Posted via email from garykemble's posterous

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