Hating Your Project
by Anna Sheehan
I just finished a project I hated.
I had started a novel that I found interesting to begin with. It had
a promising premise and a couple of intriguing characters. I set off
excited and hopeful, poured out the first act and a half, and then
got stuck around fifty-thousand words (and havenít we all had this
problem?). The characters became dull and wooden, and might as well
have been on Mars for all the insight they were giving me into their
emotional state. The landscape became grey and featureless, and the
conflict a washed out adolescent tiff between a lifeless heroine and
a villain about as terrifying as a stuffed rabbit.
I had given myself until April first to get the project finished. I
knew I had to get it done, and I didnít want to touch it. My
detestation was tangible. I began referring to it as The Wretched
Novel. I complained about it to friends and family. The sight of the
file on my computer haunted me. I glared at it with loathing. I
debated throwing the whole thing out, but all that wasted work
annoyed me. I knew there had to be something salvageable in it, but
the prospect of digging the gold out of all that dross was not
So, I avoided working on it.
My procrastination took an interesting form. I am in the habit of
sitting at my computer every day, working on my current project. I
would sit at my computer, and absolutely refuse to pull out The
Wretched Novel. So I pulled out other things to avoid it.
First, I avoided it by reviewing and revising all the short stories
I had put in out-of-the-way folders on my computer. The story of the
protocol robot on the distant colony finally got the glitches out.
Then, I avoided it by searching for markets for the afore mentioned
previously abandoned short stories, and finding places to send them
I continued my avoidance by finishing a few ideas for completely
self-indulgent stories that I hadnít really fleshed out yet. Then,
once I was on a role, I had a few more ideas, and dashed those off.
I knew these were silly ideas, self-indulgent in the extreme, and I
knew they were never going to be used. After all, I was only doing
this to waste time, avoiding working on The Wretched Novel.
Every once in a while I would gird up my loins, swallow the bile,
and drag out another chapter on The Wretched Novel, knowing
full well that I could get back to my silly, self-indulgent short
stories any time I wished.
Finally, on the thirtieth of May, I finished The Wretched Novel at
seventy-six thousand words. Looking back over it, it turns out the
rough draft isnít as bad as Iíd thought it was. The wooden
characters have a spark of fire in them. The bunny-rabbit villain
seems much more menacing lurking under all that fluff. The empty,
featureless landscape is in fact a complex and sinister frozen
winter, waiting to imperil our heroes. In short, I still knew how to
write, even when I didnít feel like I knew how to write.
Then I looked at the short stories Iíd written. And looked again.
How many were there? No. It couldnít be. That was impossible. There
werenít that many hours in the day.
Turns out, procrastinating takes a great deal of time. If you
procrastinate by being productive somewhere else, you end up quite
productive indeed. There was one short story at three thousand
words, several between nine and fourteen thousand, and a novella at
over twenty-seven thousand. All in all, in the course of three
weeks, I had written ninety-seven thousand, five hundred words, all
in an attempt to avoid the last thirty thousand of The Wretched
Add all the words together, and it has been the most productive few
weeks of my writing career.
Everyone always tells you to make quite sure you "Love what youíre
writing." They tell you to "Really connect with your characters." If
you can do all that, more power to you. But I tell you, it might
make you more productive to simply slog your way through it, and
play around the edges.
Iím working on another project Iím growing to hate at the moment.
Iím having trouble cobbling the scenes together, and the action
sequences seem forced. I decided to procrastinate a bit, by writing
Love your project.
Hate your project.
In the end it doesnít matter. Just finish your project.
In the meantime, you might find yourself growing in ways you didnít