Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alumni Voices with Connie Heckert: Failure to Finish

Heckert's bookshelf
Sometimes the hardest task for writing can be finishing. For some, it’s much easier and less stressful to call a project a work-in-progress.

It’s exciting to start new projects. A new idea offers hope, fresh research that can be pursued and we have permission to write what Anne Lamott calls the “Shitty First Draft.” Revisions can be circulated forever to our critique group and for conference peer reviews and editorial feedback. If you finish the manuscript, and send it out to an agent or editor, writers face the prospect of rejection or the reward of success. Hopefully, it’s the latter!

There are many reasons for failure to finish and I think I know them all.
  • The project isn’t working. Despite all of the critiques in the world, all of the attention and perspiration we give it, the manuscript may never work well enough for publication.
  • The original premise was faulty or not fresh enough; the action can’t overcome obstacles, there’s no way the ending will satisfy readers. Or, the market has changed and we haven’t 
  • Distractions from professional obligations. We all want to give back, and some do more than others, but we know that these obligations--no matter how enjoyable and rewarding-- can diffuse our focus on our own projects.

Our personal lives interrupt and distract us from dedicated focus. For those who want a high quality of life and know that relationships with family and friends matter, we sacrifice attention and time for our writing projects. Life-changing situations impact us personally and professionally: birth, raising children, milestone events, moving, and death can all sidetrack us for extended periods of time.

There are tons of experts advising on how to manage time and set priorities for the kind of life we want to live. Balance in our lives is a worthy goal, but what kind of balance should we strive for? And who is to define “balance” for each of us? It’s different for everyone.

The Louis Rich WIP
It’s important to love the journey and we can’t always control which road we’ll take. Sometimes the road chooses us. In my own work, Miss Rochelle and the Bell was published shortly before the publisher declared bankruptcy. Dribbles (Clarion, 1993), reached paper in a firestorm of grief and new challenges. For teens, The Swedish Connection and To Keera with Love resulted from life experiences with exchange students and a teen facing life-changing decisions. The commissioned corporate/family histories—eight going on nine--most often became projects for cash flow. Roots and Recipes (Pelican Publishing, 1995, 1997), in support of a writing friend, took ten years to publish. After eight years, The Louis Rich Story is projected for release in 2015. The Writing Group Book, nonfiction in The Writer and Cricket Magazine, I loved it all. . . . Other opportunities came my way; I declined them.

Ralph Keyes wrote in his book, The Courage to Write, “The euphoria that writers experience is a reward for the risks they take. No matter how much they dread diving into the cold, white page, once there, writers usually find it exhilarating.” (189)

For all of us, I hope that finishing our projects becomes a higher priority. May our lives give us the courage, peace and support to write with exhilarating and rewarding results.

Connie Heckert is a 2012 graduate of the MFAC program. She lives in Iowa. To learn more about Connie and her writing, please visit her website.

1 comment:

  1. Then there are those of us who have revision issues. I don't fear the blank page; I fear a page full of words that need fixed.