Posted by on May 31, 2017 in On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Pentamerone (Tale of Tales), The Fourth Orange | 2 comments

I’ve tried to write this post a dozen times already and gotten too annoyed to continue every time. Why? Pull up a chair, I’ll try to explain without rage-quitting this time. You know I strive for complete transparency in my writing process so join me for a journey into my head when I hit a big fat setback. 

As regular readers know, I have a very involved project I’ve been working on for several years now adapting Giambattista Basile’s The Tales of Tales. It’s a huge undertaking, weaving many smaller parts together, and depends a lot on research, secondary sources and translations. So it’s not a quick little thing I can just throw together in a weekend.

It’s one project that will ultimately result in many smaller projects and I’ve been working on it pretty steadily for over two years now. Some parts are done, others are not. It’s been MANY hours of writing and research to get to this point, particularly because I adapted twice as many tales as I needed to make sure I had the best ones. I am in the home stretch of one of the most important parts of it, a full length play, and, despite national turmoil, dozens of other deadlines, moving AND having a baby, I was on track to finish it by mid-May.

While this was a self-deadline to some extent, it was very important to me for three reasons. The first was simply that getting it out by the summer made it more likely I’d have productions going up in the fall, which meant getting it workshopped and out there making money sooner. (This is most needed at the moment because of various unexpected house expenses and me having less working hours because of aforementioned newborn. Money = handy for buying goods and services.)

Secondly, with the new baby, my only reliable work time is when the preschooler is at school so if I didn’t finish it before she was out for the summer, I wouldn’t get much time to work on it until the fall.

But the third and biggest reason was that I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something with this play that was REALLY important to me and this summer was my last chance to do it.

Things were going great, it seemed like I was right on track and then a bunch of things conspired against me. A parade of workers in and out of the house to fix stuff. The kids not napping. Unannounced guests. You get the idea. And most of it was no one’s fault (such as the baby being a baby) but some of it was the fault of various someones who robbed me of my writing time by wasting it doing things that could have been done literally any other time of the entire week. And the more things piled up and the longer I went without getting to even touch this project, the more angry and upset I got at basically everything and everyone. Which of course made it harder and harder to write.

So then I hadn’t gotten to touch the play in weeks and the deadline was days away. I had to finish it by the end of the weekend. It was going to be hard but I was convinced I could do it. I set myself up so I’d have at least five hours of writing time on Friday… and then lost every single second of that. And I was really freaking furious even though I also kind of get it. What is, to me, my incredibly rare and precious writing time, to others, looks like time when I’m doing “nothing” and thus free. But because this complete loss of my time was directly caused by the selfish/clueless actions of other grown adults and completely unnecessary, it upset me a billion more times than it would have if it had been a legitimate emergency or something to do with the kids. Yes, I am still incredibly bitter about this even weeks later.

So I was still shaking with rage going into Saturday and my husband took the kids and gave me four hours to write. I worked like a beast… and realized at the end that I completely botched everything up because I forgot a huge chunk (because I just plain hadn’t been able to look at the thing in so long) and would have to redo everything I did in those four hours. I sat down to try to rewrite everything on Sunday but the kids didn’t nap again and I was at such an unhealthy level of stress, I finally realized I needed to pull an Elsa and Let it Go.

Me right now

Would I still finish this project someday? Of course. But that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Trying to get it done by this summer? It was going to be near impossible and I just needed to face that.

Not gonna lie, tears were shed. Rants were ranted. Names were cursed. I was really mad at a whole bunch of people and circumstances for costing me this but, most of all, I was mad at myself.

I’m mad at myself for putting this play aside last year to work on my MG novel (that still isn’t working!!) because I was so confident I could get it done quickly later (not knowing that “later” was about to become a moving, packing, pregnancy stress extravaganza). I’m mad at myself for having to replace several of the tales because I didn’t realize how badly I’d miscalculated the page count, all of which cost me time. I’m mad at myself for not being able to get this out now and build on my career momentum from The Green Bird. I’m mad at myself for not being good enough at this writing thing by now that I need this many rounds of revision at all and can’t just get it right the first time.

This is all unreasonable, of course. I just had a freaking baby. Even before I lost all that time on this project, I was struggling with it. Because so many days elapsed between writing sessions that I could barely remember where I left off, making revision incredibly difficult. Because I’ve got so much else on my plate right now, coupled with sleep deprivation, that I barely have enough brain power to function day to day, let alone craft good fiction. Because I’ve worked so hard on the project that I wanted it to be perfect but couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing a slapdash job under less than ideal circumstances.

It’s that last thing I keep holding onto. Because I could have forced myself to finish it. I have pushed forward with writing before under duress and I know I could do it again. But it would have been hard and stressful and I can do a much better job with this project if I wait until I’ve got the time and brain power to do it right. On top of this, all of the above has soured this project for me and I think I need to wait a bit until this bad taste for it is out of my mouth so I can approach it fresh again.

So I’m putting it down and walking away. I’ll pick it back up when it feels right again, not matter what that delay costs me in the big picture. I’m taking deep breaths and trying not to blame anyone, especially not myself. Someday the time will be right and I will finish it. There will always be other opportunities. But it’s still hard.

I am, as a writer, very hard on myself. It’s part of my process… how I keep motivated. I am always battling my way through which is why calling for a retreat on this has left me wrong footed. Most of me knows it was the right thing to do but the rest chants quitter and boos.

I’m mourning this project, even as I know I will finish it eventually, but the loss still hurts. Both of the project itself and of the thing I was chasing that I wanted to badly. Whatever else happens with it in the future, right now the project feels dead, not paused, which is something I’ve never felt when taking a break before. I keep hoping I’ll wake up one morning full of fire for it again, bang it out in time for this summer after all, but that hasn’t happened.

The day after I shelved the project, I started a new one. A little non-fiction book about trying to write with a newborn. Yes, very meta, which is why it’s been so easy and fun to write. It’s like taking a good long breath of fresh air after being in a musty dark cave for too long. I’m enjoying it, flying along and making great progress. It’s the kind of project that flows like magic and makes me fall in love with writing again. There’s the occasional wistful glance over my shoulder at what could have been but it’s brief.

And through all of this there is a tiny baby and a bigger one besides and they aren’t getting any smaller. There will be time enough later to chase the big fish, wage war with troublesome words while they go off to school and other adventures. For now, I will take the time as it comes, forgive when it doesn’t, and just try to breath.