When The Clash sang its famous song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” it might as well have been channeling a creative writer looking down at an uninspiring story he created.
“Should I work on it or should I give up on it?” He might ask with a grimace.
More often than not, if that’s how he feels, his story is going to go on the backburner until judgement day.
To be fair, that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s okay to give up on a manuscript. And sometimes it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. Then again, sometimes it’s a crying shame when a writer can’t press through his creative lethargy to get his story really cooking.
So how do you know when a manuscript is worth pursuing and when you should just move on to the next idea?
Like The Clash's struggle with staying or going, that question is one that haunts creative writers everywhere.
Fortunately for me, I can ignore that writing spook for the moment. I’m having way too much fun editing Faerietales 5: Flights of Fancy to care one bit about anything else.
But it was an answer I got when I posted the question of “What area of novel writing do you struggle with most?” on Quora last week.
Incidentally, I just joined Quora, a social media site I didn’t know existed until last month. From what I can make of it, it’s all about asking questions and giving other people answers until it becomes one more giant online waste of time… and quite possibly the reason why you’re not making any headway or coming to any conclusions about your story.
Now, I’m not saying that’s the case for Sheri Lynn Fischbach. She’s already a published author, so clearly she’s got a grasp on motivation. And her middle-grade/young adult book, Dex, looks utterly adorable. Fischbach was one of the creative writers who answered my novel-writing question, and she did it this way:
“At present, I’m finding it very difficult to go back into a story I wrote a while ago. It needs serious revisions, and I am finding every reason to avoid confronting the pages.”
“Confronting.” What a perfect word to use.
Now, any writer who says they’ve never experienced that kind of hesitation is one who probably hasn’t written very much.
For me personally, I know I’ve started about a dozen stories that, for one reason or another, I put to the side for months, years or more. One of those is my very first attempt at a novel, which I only keep as an example of how not to write for whenever I get around to doing what published authors always seem to do – which is write a book about how to write.
(Editor's Note: Like Quora, those have their helpful moments but are overall wastes of time. My real thought on the matter is this... Don’t read about writing. Just write already!)
But then there’s another full-length draft I sometimes daydream about rearranging into publish-worthy perfection, and another one I have every intention of revising one of these days. It’s just a matter of when.
No really. I’ll get to it.
Though, when I look inside the "Stories to Be" folder on my laptop, I also see these potential story titles:
When Dignity Was a Crime
You Read My Mind
When Civilization Forgot Its Soul
English Majors Make Really Bad Fairytales
Fairytales Do Come True
A Day in the Life Of
Men and Chocolate Chip Cookies
Why I Said I’d Puppy-Sit, I’ll Never Know
When Gangsters Made the Rules
Okay. That’s clearly more than the dozen I claimed before, most of which I’ll probably never ever touch again.
When Dignity Was a Crime is a definite – that’s something I’ve been wanting to work on for years. When Civilization Forgot Its Soul and When Gangsters Made the Rules are going to be in the same young adult historical sci-fi fiction series, so those are pretty much done deals as well.
As for Once Bitten, well, that’s a hysterical vampire story I really would like to figure out. If I ever get around to sitting down with a lawyer and grilling her about her typical workday, it could be a thoroughly entertaining novel!
But the rest of them are probably never going to go anywhere, no matter how intrigued I am by the concept of a male rookie cop being kidnapped by a drug-addicted parolee trying to get to her online boyfriend in Minnesota (Carjacked), or a puppy-sitting gig that ends up detouring into witness protection.
How do I know those plots and characters are doomed to the dustbin? For the simple reason that there are other story concepts I care much more about.
I guess I’m lucky there in that certainty.
For those creative writers still vacillating about their manuscripts though, here’s a tip and a challenge: Try picking up that lackluster, uninspiring story of yours and working on it for just five or 10 minutes a day for one week straight.
If you still could care less about it after that week, then move on to something you do care about. Because if you can’t dredge up any passion for your own story, you’re going to be even more hard-pressed making other people care about it.
In that case, you’ve already answered the question of “should I stay or should I go.”