It is a very simple question. I’ve had a history of sharing here, and some of the stories shared are actually complete. Shelving books can mean putting a completed manuscript aside never to publish, it could mean planning to return to a piece later, or stopping through the development process. It happens every day to writers of all genres, and creators of all sorts of media. It’s a source of fear and anxiety in a lot of folks, not only because they may fear never finishing a masterpiece, but also because there’s a lot of judgement. As I’ve been working more diligently on completing my body of work, and reflecting on works I’ve stepped back from, I’m left wondering if that shame is misplaced. There’s millions of reasons creatives do not publish or complete a project as planned. A director starts a film and runs out of funds after their sets get rained out, or a painter hits a creative block so the massive canvas haunts their studio’s most shadowed corners. A creator could hide a story away like so many adult fanfiction authors looking back at their youthful works that are best left buried far away in a vault next to the Arc of the Covenant. The choice may be from embarrassment, but then there’s the other creator whose heart breaks at the 10th rejection letter telling them to polish it more. As I became an adult I loathed my brain because I had probably dozens of notebooks, sketchbooks, and day dreams with stories I loved that were constantly being shelved. In the last 4 years I have become much more committed to completing my stories, and I have shelved almost every major story I started, most with tears in my eyes. It hurt at times like I was admitting defeat and reminding myself I’m not talented. I’m not the gifted kid anymore, and we can call it imposter syndrome, but I felt like a grand con-artist in my worst moments. So why hit the breaks and do that to myself; why change subject and project?
In a way I want to just say it’s my ADHD and writer brain being a tag team made in Hell, but stopping a project and putting it aside is not giving up on it. A manuscript can be brilliant and masterful while the author still needs to hone other skills, and my works were far from masterful though I hope they’re brilliant in some way. However as I worked on Mind and Frost, The Hell I Burn Through, and Murderous Desires there came a point where I began to feel like I bit off more than I had the capacity to chew. I’d write and write. I’d work with my workshop diligently (kinda…sorta) and then I’d step back. In that moment, staring at printed pages and pen scratch there was a clarity. I realized three things: 1) Mind and Frost alongside Murderous Desire are too complicated because I need stop being afraid of how people perceive my writing 2) I am not ready to give my work the weight it needs to tell these tales how they need to be told. No. Actually, how I want them to be told. Southern gothic is my home place, but in 2019, as I graduated with my social work degree the revelation came that I needed to shrink to expand.
I didn’t just put them aside in shame. I recognized what every writer needs to recognize, they can tell these stories inside them. These stories are escaping for a reason. We need to embrace it and it is necessary for a creator to recognize that they need to polish themselves through working on projects less close, less massive in their hearts/minds, and then when they’ve used other works to build more skills they’ll be able to more adequately share themselves. When creatives take the time to reflect on their skills, their journey, and what they want to give their audience and the world it can be a powerful turning point. By working on the manuscripts I have been the last two years I have completed four short stories, two erotica, and one fantasy novella which is now being rewritten again (draft number 8.5). The funny thing is my writing has gotten so much better. My story telling and characterization have been heavily praised by my friends and my workshops. It is as though my growth as a person has fed and been fed by the choice to step back from those big lofty ideas and projects. When we hold ourselves accountable to those most potent concepts that we say must be this and must be that, we can lose the bigger picture. We can lose the craft because we’re saying “I must be ready!”
It is not a failure to not be ready and it is ok to rethink your previous belief you were. It’s not shameful. It’s not lack of confidence. Sometimes it’s a blistering awareness that until you move further on your journey there are other stories you need to tell, and that will liberate you.
Have you ever put a project on hold? Are there projects you paused and in the end you were grateful so you could come back to them when you’re ready? What do you think it means to be ready?