Happy Saturday and Howdy! Of course, for me it’s Friday night and I’m sitting in the bar of my hotel in Seaside. I fled out to the coast to work on an essay that I’m a bit late on and to get a little break. Last week was my stepmom’s funeral and there’s just been a lot of Life Stuff. So two trips to the coast in a month is rare but it feels good to be back on the water. Good food, good drink.
When I realized I had yet to write my post, I put out a call for topic ideas and I decided to run with my friend Danielle’s suggestion to talk about when to persist versus when persistence is just being plain stubborn in that not-so-good way.
I think my first thought is that it really depends on what it is your hanging on to or letting go of. Sometimes, we start this gig out with expectations that are just wildly unrealistic — things like how many words we can comfortably write in a day, how many sales we can make in a year, etc. Lots of writing life lives beyond your control. So right off the bat, I say look at those expectations — balance them against what other reasonable-minded people expect of themselves, listen to what other writers who’ve been at it longer have to say on the subject — and let the ones go that lie outside of your control.
And while we’re on the topic of expectations, sometimes we expect far too much of ourselves under circumstances that most would agree merit a reduction in those expectations. And sometimes we expect far too little of ourselves under more ideal circumstances. Let go where appropriate.
When it comes to projects, I prefer to be a hanger-on than a letter-go. And there’s a lot of talk out there about finishing everything you start — something I agree with…most of the time. But sometimes it takes a lot longer to finish something — even years — because we just don’t have all the ingredients to cook the soup. In those cases, sometimes it makes far more sense to set the project aside and tackle something you know you can finish. That gets much trickier when you’re under contract and working with deadlines. But even then, sometimes you’re only looking at a work interruption of a few days but by shifting gears you can wrap up something else, clear your mind, and come back to the first project with fresh eyes.
So much of it really hangs on knowing, in the moment, on a case by case basis, what the best path will be. And every project is different and even we, to some degree, are different at different seasons in our lives. So hang on to the idea of seeing life as an ever-changing journey. Let go of anything that smells like irrational fear or jangling anxieties. Writerly insecurities are responsible for far more writing interference than most of us want to admit.
And when it comes to projects that you’re shelving, try not to see it as quitting. Look at it as taking a break, put your eyes on it once in awhile and jot down anything that comes to mind. You might surprise yourself by knowing one day, seemingly out of the blue, exactly how to land it.
It also helps to have a tribe, a community of writers you trust and people who know you well, that you can bounce things off of. “Hey, I’m thinking about shelving project A because of ______. I’m gonna work on project B instead. Whatcha think?” And then listen to what they say and ask them questions.
This can also apply to letting go or hanging on to directions within a story you’re working on. Sometimes, stories like to bust outside of our expectations for them. Sometimes characters rise to the surface and want to take over…and should. And other times, they shouldn’t be allowed and must be stopped. Sit with it. Ponder. It’s your story. You get to choose. Choose wisely. And un-choose as needed.
But again, try not to view it all as black and white and either/or. Few things really are. Because like Don McLean sings: “There’s no need for turning back ’cause all roads lead to where I stand.”
And on that note, Trailer Boy is signing out!