She had one comment that really struck me during this conversation, and has stayed with me ever since:
"Don't stay married to the novel, just to justify your efforts."
On first glance, that might seem like a terrible thing to say, but it wasn't, and I didn't take it that way. Rather, she was forcing me to consider why I'm writing, and what it is I'm trying to accomplish. She was helping me assess the work in progress.
Now I'm going to say up front that I'm not going to set the novel aside until I have a completed manuscript. I have to finish the story. I tried to explain why during the conversation with my friend, but I don't think I was very eloquent about it.
Luckily, there's someone else out there that's been in the business much longer and is better equipped to speak on the subject.
David Coe is starting a new series of posts on Magical Words called "Back to Basics". Part 1: Be a Writer posted on Monday. Of the many good pieces of advice in that post, there was one that particularly struck a chord, because of this past conversation.
6. Keep Moving Forward: Ask Faith, and she will tell you that you are not a writer until you finish something — a story, a novel, something. And she’s right. I know so many aspiring writers who reach that tough section in the writing process and either retreat into rewrites or give up and start something new. Revisions are important; the new-shiny is a great part of writing. But writers finish what they start, and you need to keep moving forward with your Work In Progress. Writing isn’t easy; part of the process is fighting through the stubborn sections of a work, finding that solution to a nagging plot problem. Keep moving forward. Finish what you start.
This brilliantly explains why I can't just stop working. I can't call myself a writer until I've finished an entire work. I've written a few short stories, sure, but they were intended to be writing exercises, not serious projects. The novel is my first attempt to create something that's worth publishing. The act of "finishing" the project will prove that I can, in fact, write a novel. If it's not good enough this time, maybe the next one will be, but I can do it.
Far too many people decide that their goals are just too hard. They don't want to put in the time, effort, energy, money, or make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their goals. They're afraid of failure. And maybe they're even afraid of success. So they quit mid-stream and go back to something that, at least on the surface, seems easier.
Life takes work. Dreams take work. There's no fairy godmother that's going to wave her magic wand and poof, you're a princess. It doesn't work that way. You pick a path, choose your goal, start at the bottom and work your way to success. I don't care if you want to be a farmer or an astronaut, a ballerina or a WWF wrestler, you have to work to your success. What's that old adage? Anything that's worth doing is difficult (or something like that).
I want to be a writer. I've spent nearly two years working on this novel, but I'm not yet a writer. I will finish the novel, and then, only then, can I call myself a writer.
Ultimately, I want to be an author. If this novel isn't good enough for publication, then I'll start on the next project. I will finish that one. I may have to go through the process two or three more times, but eventually I will be published and then, only then, can I call myself an author.