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This Writing Life: Coasting

17 August, 2012

The last few weeks have been strange ones for me, writing-wise. I’ve been working consistently, but because I’ve been flitting between half a dozen different things (novel edits, research and first pages of another novel, a novella for an anthology etc. etc.), I don’t feel as if I’m getting anything done. As a result, I feel rather like I’m coasting along: not falling behind, not slacking off, but not really making progress either.

Even for an unpublished writer, I’ve discovered this is a life with an uneven schedule. You’ll be plugging away at a novel for months, only to feel bereft and directionless when it’s done. You’ll go from having no finished short stories and nothing to submit, to several done and needing submitting, in the space of a month – and when you do submit, you’ll hear nothing for weeks, before getting a flurry of responses. Interesting calls for submissions also seem to come in clusters, with a dearth of deadlines to work toward one month and three or four the next.

So, what to do in those periods when you feel to be coasting? It’s easy to just let the current drag you along – and that can be fine if you’re genuinely working, as I am – but sometimes you need to break free. Keep track of what you’re working on, how much you’ve accomplished, and what deadlines might suddenly loom up at you if you let them. You might find that you need to change tack and work on something else, or that you actually are on the right track (and if you are, congratulations! I never seem to be working on what I think I should be working on).

When coasting can, of course, be the right time to take a break, or to write something completely new, though of course that depends on what you’re abandoning to do so. You can easily feel as if you’re not making progress when right in the middle of a novel, but that’s one very good example of when not to pack it all in and do something else. Get the novel finished and then decide whether your work is taking the path you want it to – having that finished novel can make all the difference.

In my case, it’s a novella I’m currently plugging away at, and one which I started afresh this week (which is probably why I feel I have so little forward momentum). I can’t honestly tell at the moment whether this novella is going anywhere, or whether it’s going to be any good when it’s finished – I can only jump into that current and follow it downstream to the end, and start paddling harder as that deadline rushes towards me.


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