Stuck in the mud, with a wildly flailing compass

Writer’s Block, this part of the forum is called, so it seemed like the ideal place to ask for advice, or at least for a shoulder to cry on. I don’t actually have writer’s block, as such, since I have no trouble writing something if I sit down to do it – and, dear knows, I would never be able to afford the luxury of writer’s block in my paid work, which in the past was very heavily writing-based. But I have been trying to write novels on and off for as long as I can remember, and I can’t seem to make myself finish any of them. In fact, I have works in progress (or, more accurately, works in suspended animation) in all of the following genres – general, literary, romance, historical, young adult (fantasy), mystery, vaguely-but-probably-unsuccessfully-comic… and I am sure there are others, but they don’t leap to mind. Those are just the projects which still spark my enthusiasm; there are plenty of other abandoned ones in which I have long since lost interest.

I’ve read that I should just choose one of these ongoing projects and stick with it, rattling on to completion, which is fine, but which one do I choose? Every time I pick up one of them, I think of things I could do with one of the others. I’ve read that I should write the sort of thing I like to read, which doesn’t help because I like to read so many different genres and styles that it doesn’t narrow the field very much. I’ve read that I should do a synopsis for all of them, then pick the one that seems most exciting, but I lose interest as soon as I have done the synopsis (legacy of a previous day job, where the creativity came in the definition and pitch, and the rest was just legwork and deadlines). In total contrast, I have also read that I should start something new, but I rather suspect that is where I have been going wrong all these years: too many new projects and no external pressure to finish any of them. Besides, I reach a point, somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 words, when I don’t know if the work is good enough to continue or whether it is nothing more than a waste of time, whereupon I gradually slip into a morass of gloominess about the whole thing.

To pull myself together, I thought of doing an MA in Creative Writing, but that’s not actually what I want and I suspect that I dreamt it up as just another procrastinatory ploy; besides, the only one in shouting distance is still rather inaccessible, and they turned me down once before (actually, I didn’t satisfy the entrance criteria at the time, so shouldn’t have applied). I don’t want to do a distance learning course, because it’s a bit one-way and I don’t think it would help with my current problem (I’ve just finished a degree by distance learning, and would prefer some real contact for this sort of issue). I’ve looked at some literary consultancy/mentoring schemes, but they are very expensive, and there is no way of telling in advance who would be working with you and whether you would value their opinion in anything more than a generic fashion. Besides, I want to sit down with someone sensible and work through things more generally, as if it were a work project, not just get written/telephone feedback on a specific piece of work from person or persons unknown (so posting for internet critique or a local writing circle isn’t what I am looking for, either). This probably makes me sound like a spoilt child who doesn’t know what she wants but she wants it now, and maybe that is not so very far from the truth!

Deep down, I know that the world will be no worse off if I never write a publishable novel. Nobody but me will care. I don’t even know why I want to do it, except that it is something I always assumed I would do one day. So why can’t I make myself just do it? Hugh’s signature message (“faire et se taire”) is haunting me reproachfully as I write this. But in other areas of my life, I am an obsessive project-finisher who hates loose ends and broken promises. Last week, I was full of enthusiasm for a new writing project, which got off to a great start but has now floundered on the same sandbank as my other efforts. The thought of going forward with any of them, or even the process of choosing which one to progress, makes me feel so very, very tired.

Any ideas? Or should I just stick to non-fiction (perhaps trying “proper” non-fiction, of the sort that people buy for fun) and stop faffing about?

Siren, my love,
You once described your writerly status as, Dilettante. I wonder how many of the crew could wear that badge with pride. In my case I dont think I even qualify for Dilettante, I just love playing about with words. Maybe youre not meant to be a novelist, maybe…youre a Short Story writer, who has taken a wrong turning. 3/5/7K words max is all you need. Why dont you give it a go?

Discipline yourself to finish a 3K. Then another 3K, before moving up to a 5K. See what happens. Maybe you just want to tell stories and can`t be arsed with all the ffaffing about gettin a novel to the printers.

Try the 3k Siren see how it goes :wink: Good Luck!
Take care

I would second Vic’s advice. A short story is as complete a work as a novel and can be just as satisfying - for both writer and reader. Good luck.

Or 1600. My stuff seems to fit in the the short short more than just the short. But I can get those done in under a night and have it ready for someone to read through in 2 nights. Not saying they are any good, but now that I have “given up” on the longer form I am really having fun.

Then again it could just be the subject matter that I am enjoying.

Thank you, chaps. I’ll give it a go, and I like Vic’s idea of progressively increasing the word count of finished pieces, assuming that I can finish even short ones :slight_smile: But I’m not at all convinced that I’ll be any good at short stories. I don’t really read them, for a start… at least, not regularly. Every now and then, I dig out a collection with the intention of reading them one at a time, but somehow I never get past the second or third in the book. Obviously, I have read short stories in the past (I like Gogol, Saki, Damon Runyon and O. Henry, off the top of my head), but apart from that, I’m rather out of touch.

Thanks for the support and advice; I’ll let you know how I get on.

I’m working on a couple of (semi-related) novels right now, but for many years I kept notebooks with short narratives, as they occurred to me. Generally, they were based on real-world events: things my children did or said, unpublish-able bits of news stories picked up working in a newsroom, life-and-death moments from working in a hospital ER and on a rescue squad. Each of those, however, was private, privileged; none could be used literally without breaking a real or implied confidence.

(Please bear with me. I am headed toward a conclusion.)

And so each of those events had to be fictionalized in a way, using the sense of what happened without using the actual name/place/circumstances. In that way, I gathered a stock of unfinished narratives, ideas for parts of a plot. (Rather like the 1600 wordies Jaysen refers to.) They were episodes, passages, interludes.

One day, having failed for the howmanyith time to turn one of them into a story, I tried jamming a couple together; then I stuck on a third. Suddenly, I had a full-blown novel outlined. (Well, not suddenly. Eventually.)

If nothing else, it makes an interesting challenge: finding/creating credible links among apparently disparate events.

Kind of like real life.


Smack bottom, kick arse time (pardon the rude vic-kism), I`m afraid, Miss siren. :imp:
Ratio of negative/positive clauses/phrases/propositions, ex/implicit, included in your two post, is 436,979,900,365,498,385 to1, give or take a soupçon, here or there.

It seems like you have a leaky enthusiasm bucket. Start nothing unless you are 110% enthusiastic about the project. It should present a challenge to you, but not an insurmountable one.

Everyone aboard Scrivener knows you`d be a Wilkey Collins groupie, if he was still around(each to his/her own), but never the less, bear in mind: William Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) was an English novelist, playwright, and author of short stories.

Loads of his stuff, even novels, were published in serialisation form (he could have been churning out just enough, once a week), in Dickens` literary magazine: ‘All the Year Round’, e.g., The Woman in White (29 November 1859 to 1860) No Name, and The Moonstone (1868)

So going the short story rout to Fame, Fortune, (and Notoriety, taking into account your hedonistic/turpitudinous proclivities), may indeed be the way forward for you.
Take care

Fluff has words of wisdom beyond all feline expectations. I have indeed had a leaky enthusiasm bucket, and thinking about Fluff’s reference to serialisation has proved to be a bit of an eye-opener because it now seems as though I treat all my work as a never-ending serial. I appear to be able to write 1000-word chunk after 1000-word chunk without ever drawing nearer to a satisfactory overarching conclusion, which is why my interest in projects wanes even when I am still keen on the basic ideas and scenarios. Following up a book recommendation from Hugh elsewhere in the forum (for McKee’s Story), I have been thinking about this, and I am hopeful of seeing a glimmer of light ahead.

In the meantime, thank you to all of you for the suggestions. I have tried writing a few shorter pieces, both short stories and observational snippets, as suggested in this thread. These are not works of art, and they will never win any prizes, but they’re functional (the notebook-style segments more so than the short stories), and they have been an interesting exercise, which I will continue for a while longer. Unless, of course, one of you knows of a periodical publication which would like to publish weekly instalments of a serial story, the contract for which will continue without resolution until the publication folds sometime in December 2053? :wink:

Sounds like Eastenders.

In order to be a restaurant critic, you don’t need to know how to cook. You just need to learn to eat. In the same way, in order to be able to give useful insights on your ideas people don’t need to be writers themselves, they just need to know how to read. As such you no doubt know lots of suitably qualified people to give you a truely independent view on your synopsi. Write up a half page on each of your favourite ideas, and give them to a friend. Let them pick which one they’d be most interested in reading as a final book. They will be lacking any bias caused by length of attachment, pride of authorship or the challenge in writing.

Then attack it with energy, enthusiasm and a third thing beginning with ‘e’ if you can think of one.


egotism? no
equines? no
equilibrium? no
ebullition? no
emulation? not it I am the source, but i would still say no.
excitement? redundant as it is excessive enthusiasm but… Yes.


Hmmm, I’m noting a definite horse theme emerging in your posts!

Of note in your note should be a simultaneous association with futile deep muscle massage of said equines. A massage that is accomplished using strong switch like tools.

A note to note with the previous noted note is that this is entirely figurative and metaphorical. Apparently alliterative applies as well.

But then I’d have to write the book they want to read, rather than the book I want to write! :slight_smile: And besides, everyone I know has rubbish taste in books! :wink: (By which I mean that they don’t like the books I like. My husband reads mainly about naval history, for example.)

I have picked one of my many dusty drafts to work on, and am full of enthusiasm again. Daunted at the scale of the revision required to fix the existing bits… befuddled by the possibilities for the bits that don’t exist… vaguely concerned that I have picked the wrong piece of work in the wrong genre… but enthusiastic nonetheless. Onward and upward!

Sounds like a case for my colleague Dr. Chardonnay.
Do take care
Dr. Mulality

"Then attack it with energy, enthusiasm and a third thing beginning with ‘e’ if you can think of one.


Ed Sullivan
electroshock therapy

I am consulting Dr. Sauv Blanc as we speak. :slight_smile:

I would like to add some practical advice to this wildly careening thread.
Do not waste time in an MFA program on creative writing.
They give you a false sense of community and progress, which evaporates in 2 years.
And you are $40 to $60k deeper in debt.
You will not get any connections to agents or publishers.
If so, the faculty would be busy publishing, not teaching.
And worst of all, you will pick up the “workshop” tone/style of writing.
Which means that your original voice and approach is gone.
A better path is to take a few local writing courses, no degree in mind.
And find a supportive writer’s group, one that listens and advises, um, coherently.

See also this article: … 57653.html

In a similar vein, this one: