Hating Your Project
by Anna Sheehan
I just finished a project I hated.
I had started a novel that I found interesting to begin with. It had a promising premise and a couple of intriguing characters. I set off excited and hopeful, poured out the first act and a half, and then got stuck around fifty-thousand words (and haven’t we all had this problem?). The characters became dull and wooden, and might as well have been on Mars for all the insight they were giving me into their emotional state. The landscape became grey and featureless, and the conflict a washed out adolescent tiff between a lifeless heroine and a villain about as terrifying as a stuffed rabbit.
I had given myself until April first to get the project finished. I knew I had to get it done, and I didn’t want to touch it. My detestation was tangible. I began referring to it as The Wretched Novel. I complained about it to friends and family. The sight of the file on my computer haunted me. I glared at it with loathing. I debated throwing the whole thing out, but all that wasted work annoyed me. I knew there had to be something salvageable in it, but the prospect of digging the gold out of all that dross was not appealing.
So, I avoided working on it.
My procrastination took an interesting form. I am in the habit of sitting at my computer every day, working on my current project. I would sit at my computer, and absolutely refuse to pull out The Wretched Novel. So I pulled out other things to avoid it.
First, I avoided it by reviewing and revising all the short stories I had put in out-of-the-way folders on my computer. The story of the protocol robot on the distant colony finally got the glitches out. Then, I avoided it by searching for markets for the afore mentioned previously abandoned short stories, and finding places to send them out.
I continued my avoidance by finishing a few ideas for completely self-indulgent stories that I hadn’t really fleshed out yet. Then, once I was on a role, I had a few more ideas, and dashed those off. I knew these were silly ideas, self-indulgent in the extreme, and I knew they were never going to be used. After all, I was only doing this to waste time, avoiding working on The Wretched Novel.
Every once in a while I would gird up my loins, swallow the bile, and drag out another chapter on The Wretched Novel, knowing full well that I could get back to my silly, self-indulgent short stories any time I wished.
Finally, on the thirtieth of May, I finished The Wretched Novel at seventy-six thousand words. Looking back over it, it turns out the rough draft isn’t as bad as I’d thought it was. The wooden characters have a spark of fire in them. The bunny-rabbit villain seems much more menacing lurking under all that fluff. The empty, featureless landscape is in fact a complex and sinister frozen winter, waiting to imperil our heroes. In short, I still knew how to write, even when I didn’t feel like I knew how to write.
Then I looked at the short stories I’d written. And looked again. How many were there? No. It couldn’t be. That was impossible. There weren’t that many hours in the day.
Turns out, procrastinating takes a great deal of time. If you procrastinate by being productive somewhere else, you end up quite productive indeed. There was one short story at three thousand words, several between nine and fourteen thousand, and a novella at over twenty-seven thousand. All in all, in the course of three weeks, I had written ninety-seven thousand, five hundred words, all in an attempt to avoid the last thirty thousand of The Wretched Novel.
Add all the words together, and it has been the most productive few weeks of my writing career.
Everyone always tells you to make quite sure you "Love what you’re writing." They tell you to "Really connect with your characters." If you can do all that, more power to you. But I tell you, it might make you more productive to simply slog your way through it, and play around the edges.
I’m working on another project I’m growing to hate at the moment. I’m having trouble cobbling the scenes together, and the action sequences seem forced. I decided to procrastinate a bit, by writing an article.
Love your project.
Hate your project.
In the end it doesn’t matter. Just finish your project.
In the meantime, you might find yourself growing in ways you didn’t expect.