death of a project

August 6, 2010

I’m killing off the chapter-a-month challenge. Right here, right now. Line right up and get photos while the guillotine comes down.

I decided to put the project out of its misery, rather than count off the months that had passed while I did not write a chapter a month.

It was a noble little project, it was. Write a draft of a chapter for my book each month. Sounds good, sounds proactive, sounds, maybe, doable. And I was sure that making the project public here would make me diligent.

Nope. Not even for you, my faithful readers, could I crank out a chapter a month.

A few words in my defense: I have been writing. I have! Except during June, when vacation excused me. But other than that, I’ve been busy. Just not writing chapters. Oh, I’d set out to write chapters. But then suddenly my words would drift off into unexpected directions, leaving the park confines, calling back to taunt me. Silly writer lady! You thought you’d write about audiobooks. Ha HA! We lines here are gathering amongst ourselves and striking out for new territory! This paragraph here is running off with that paragraph there, and they’re secretly spawning an entirely new chapter, maybe two! Just you try to corral us by the end of the month for your little project!

“But something happened when I actually started to write. The book took on a life of its own and told me how it wanted to be written…I didn’t fight the current. On the contrary, the writing of the book proved one of its central points: that we write to find out what we know and what we want to say. I thought of how often as a writer I had made clear to myself some subject I had previously known nothing about by just putting once sentence after another–by reasoning my way in sequential steps to its meaning. I thought of how often the act of writing even the simplest document–a letter for instance–had clarified my half-formed ideas. Writing and thinking and learning were the same process.”

William Zinsser, Writing to Learn

It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in having my writing mutiny against me. I’ve decided to take Zinsser’s advice and not fight the current.

I know I’ve used this analogy before, but I like it so much that I’m hoping you’ll indulge my repetition: The trouble with this writing thing is that writers don’t have a medium to work with, as other artists do. Not, at least, until we get some words down. A sculptor can take out a block of clay and start shaping it; she can work her hands in the clay and hear the clay tell her what it wants to be. But a writer has nothing until she sits down and writes and makes that clay. Then, after all that work the shaping starts, and the words start whispering what they really want to be.

I think I’m still in my clay-making phase. I could start up a lump-of-clay-a-month challenge! But somehow that doesn’t have the right ring.

The good news is that last month, while I dutifully tried to write a chapter, my writing gave me a new idea. A new model, really. It has to do with Zinnser’s notions above, with the idea that you learn as you write, that half-formed ideas are clarified as you try to explain your thoughts. It also has to do with you, fine readers, and your feedback. It’s all part of that little secret I alluded to in my last post, that I’ll be starting up here in September. But that’s all I’m saying for now.

So goodbye, chapter-a-month challenge. You were an admirable idea, but you just didn’t work for me. Off with your head!

(What? I hear you saying. No photos? Nope, I couldn’t think of a visual to accompany the post, short of showing my notebook and a big set of shears. But there’s always something new and visual happening on my flickr page. You can get there via that little flickr widget on the right…)

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori August 7, 2010 at 8:58 am

oh, how i love that zinsser quote!

it seems to me a mark of high intelligence to be able to put aside a goal that no longer suits .. a sign of growth, right? ;^)

as a celebratory present, my favorite of all writing quotes, maira kalman: “i got to my desk. a writer must write.”



patricia August 7, 2010 at 9:18 am

I love the Zinsser quote too. Reading about how he learned and changed his ideas as he wrote gave me a lot of hope. I always thought I was inefficient in all my rewritings, but now I accept that it’s part of the process.

Maybe moving on is a sign of high intelligence–or maybe I was just naive to set myself up with such a project in the first place!

Love the Kalman quote too. It strips the writing process down to its essence. Although I might add to it. I got to my desk. A writer must write. (And then listen to her writing talk back to her.) Ha!


Susan Paulkonis August 7, 2010 at 9:08 am

Well done, I say. Self-imposed arbitrary deadlines just give us an excuse to feel bad about not meeting them, even when meeting them would have been the wrong thing to do.


Susan Paulukonis August 7, 2010 at 9:09 am

I just noticed that my name has been spelled wrong on all my comments. And *I* did it. Well, now. That is humbling.


patricia August 7, 2010 at 9:27 am

Well, sometimes self-imposed arbitrary deadlines work, and sometimes they don’t. I guess the secret is in knowing to kill them off before the guilt kills you off.

I hadn’t noticed that your name was spelled wrong, or I would have changed it for you. You have so many letters in your last name, who’s to miss one or two of them anyway? 😉


Carrie August 7, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Good for you! I love that when you realized the project didn’t fit the mold you got rid of the mold rather than trying to force the project. Did you learn that homeschooling, or were you always so wise?


patricia August 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Oh, you people give me too much credit for wisdom! It’s more like I can’t stand to start something and leave it unfinished.

Although I think you’re right, Carrie: I have learned from my kids that you don’t need to finish everything you start. Sometimes it’s just better to move on.


susan August 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I’m really really curious about your next project. Really really really curious.


patricia August 8, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Oh goody, just the response I was hoping for! I just hope the project will live up to my silly hype.

(And it’s not that big of a secret. If you come to park day, you can drag it out of me.)


Barrie August 22, 2010 at 11:13 am

No fair! I can’t come to parkday anymore.


Valarie August 9, 2010 at 6:34 pm

I love the Zinsser quote. The most important thing is that you are writing. The length and the form do not matter. Just keep writing.


patricia August 9, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Thanks for the encouragement, Valarie. That’s the best advice there is: just keep writing.


Kristin August 11, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I know you’re flexible with your kids so I’m glad you are with yourself too.

I’ve been to your flickr page and it rocks. You’ve got some wonderful images.


patricia August 11, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Is there anything better than being told that you or your work rocks?

I think not!

Thanks, Kristin.


Just Peaches August 15, 2010 at 6:27 am

Oh, off with its silly head (although you might find it looking up at you again and exclaiming “Not Dead Yet!”). Anyways, it sounds like you’ve got lots of other ideas percolating. I’m curious about September too. Fall always feels like both and end and a beginning to me.


patricia August 17, 2010 at 7:22 am

Glad you’re curious about the September project–I’m hoping you’ll get involved!

Tease, tease.


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