Cheating on Your Manuscript, Or: Why Writers Shouldn’t Be Monogamous to Their Writing (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

(Author’s Note: the first of each month means it’s another episode of Insecure Writer’s Support Group. In this episode…well, post, really…I ponder why it’s alright for writers to stray from their current work-in-progress, and take on another in the meantime.

And be sure to check out other bloggers in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, either through Alex Cavnaugh’s blog, or by using the #ISWG or #Insecure Writers Support Group search tag to find other bloggers blogging on the same topic.)


 This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)


My therapist will tell you that in the past, I’ve had some commitment issues. Some bad commitment issues, in fact. I’ve broken off relationships just when things were really starting to hit their stride. What, things are looking promising? Better break this woman’s heart, and fast! Don’t want her thinking I’m the marrying type! I’ve gotten past those commitment issues; my wife and I have been together for fifteen years now, married for ten. Pretty good, huh? But I’ve had a tendency to start things and later give up, and not just relationships.

It took a long time for me to commit to being a writer. I made some abortive attempts in the past, and they all failed, mostly because of my indiscipline, largely because of my impatience and, again, my commitment issues. Over the past two, say even three years, I’ve stuck with the writing, because, dammit, I want it. I’ve seen my work-in-progress grow from a lark of an idea into a sketch, then into a first draft, then a second draft, now a third. It’s been something I’ve readily committed to.

But I’m afraid I’m ready to cheat on my work-in-progress. And I have The Plot Whisperer to thank for that.

I started reading Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer recently, and it’s been a great help for me in terms of visualizing what my writing strengths are, and where my areas of weakness need improving. Having figured out that I’m a character-driven writer – okay, I really didn’t need the confirmation – what The Plot Whisperer has demonstrated is a different and more elegant approach to plotting, without having to bog yourself down in minutiae the way that outlining often times forces you to. I don’t like to outline, and I’m really not much of a fan of pantsing. I’m desperately seeking a balance somewhere in the middle. The Plot Whisperer shows me a visual middle that greatly appeals to me. And when I started to apply that visual middle to my work-in-progress, it left me dismayed. I was left with two disparate stories, none of which seemed to mesh. On the one hand, a narrative about a failed superhero. On the other hand, a satire about a workplace where the employees are made up of superheroes. Two competing narratives, both of which I was in love with, both of which I was hating. I wrote earlier about killing your darlings; I was left wondering if I was about to kill the right darlings.

Worse yet, I was ready to leave the damned thing for a while, for something else. Something more enticing. I was going to cheat on my work-in-progress.

Not that I was ready to leave my current work-in-progress for good. I was just going to leave it for a while, you know, go fool around with the curvy blonde with the nice rack. Yeah, digging deep into a new work-in-progress would have been great, but, being a lapsed Catholic, there would have been those massive feelings of guilt and shame. I abandoned my work-in-progress. Will she ever take me back?

The problem is, I like this new work-in-progress, the curvy blonde with the nice rack. I’ve even come up with a short synopsis to springboard off from:

A failed writer who teaches creative writing at a community college suddenly becomes an overnight sensation when he posts a series of short stories written as a satirical retort to what he felt was the poor fan fiction his students continued to pass off as their own fiction. As he continues to post more and more satirical content, in which he envisages a dystopian future in which humans must fend off zombies while also evading dinosaurs who were accidentally brought into the future through a time portal, a bidding war between publishing giants suddenly erupts. For the failed writer, who once imagined himself as the bastard heir to the likes of Pynchon and Vonnegut, suddenly finding fame by writing unimaginably bad fiction, was bittersweet. So he does what any good writer would have done: he bites the hand that feeds him.

I saw this photo posted on Dex Raven’s blog yesterday, and it helped set things straight with me:

The photo also got me thinking: there’s nothing written in the Book of Writers (if there is such a book) that says that writers have to remain monogamous to whatever they’re currently working on. I read once that Isaac Asimov used to keep seven typewriters going at the same time; if he got bored with what he was working on, or found himself stuck, he’d jump on to the next typewriter and work on whatever was in front of him on that typewriter. An apocryphal story, perhaps, but it serves to illustrate a point: sometimes it’s necessary to move on to something else to re-awaken what you’re currently working on.

I won’t say that I’m stopping my work-in-progress. I’m not giving up on it. But I am going to give myself the freedom to explore another work-in-progress in the meantime. If this breaks up the monogamy, so be it. Maybe writers aren’t meant to be monogamous, at least when it comes to their writing.


9 thoughts on “Cheating on Your Manuscript, Or: Why Writers Shouldn’t Be Monogamous to Their Writing (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

  1. The simple truth is, you have to write about what you are most passionate about, no matter what came before. The Plot Whisperer is a pretty good book, if a bit dry, but also check out The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel, both by lit agent Donald Maass, plus Plot and Structure by bestselling author James Scott bell. They’re both easier to consume and won’t bog you down with distracting graphics and timelines. Good luck staying on task!

    I’m one of Alex’s minions for this month’s IWSG. Nice to meet you!

    • I’m totally with you, Nancy. It’s just I’m passionate about both WIPs, but I’m worried about spreading myself too thin. However, this is totally doable, so I should both stop talking myself out of it and stop letting the lapsed Catholic get in the way.

      Pleasure to meet you as well!

  2. SK’s advice is solid, but everyone has to figure out what works for them. Sometimes that means allowing yourself to make mistakes. Just be willing to pay the cost if it does not work out.

    When you are not writing as a primary income or to meet a publisher’s deadlines, this sort of flexibility is affordable. In that sense, I am infinitely flexible.

    Cool, thought-provoking piece on the business of writing. Thanks for sharing.


    • That’s the rub, isn’t it, figuring out what works for you? That’s the part that’s gotten me all tied in knots, trying to figure out what really works. But I’m getting there.

      Thanks for reading, Mitch!

  3. Great post, Gus, and now I want to read The Plot Whisperer.

    I’ve been letting my WIP rest for too long and may be breaking that back out again, soon. But in the resting process, I’ve decided to go in a different direction with the MC, which means much revamping of the storyline. Meanwhile, a couple of opportunities have presented themselves that sound very interesting and promising. Plus, plus, plus.

    But I don’t mind putting things down for a bit and coming back to them later, especially if it’s not absolutely pressing it be done in a specific time-frame. I’m easily distracted that way…look! A butterfly.., but then again, have ended up with a lot of great starts to develop. Thanks for coming by and for your support.

  4. That would help explain why Asimov was so prolific, if nothing else!

    I agree that it’s useful to have a fling on the side, in writing terms, to keep fresh.
    You never know which area of your thoughts will allow a great concept to spring up in.

  5. For a long time, we tried to be serially monogamous to consecutive WIPs. Sometimes that worked, sometimes not. Despite Steve King’s advice, we’ve found that it’s okay to “fool around” on the side — hey, we do it with the books we read simultaneously. We even set aside one old flame for 10 years before we came back to it. And we think the final product was better than it would have been.

    We say, go for it. Maybe it’ll rekindle the romance.

    • Ah, nice to know I’m not alone in this feeling!

      I definitely think it’s going to fire up things for me. It’s even gotten me to revisit some short stories from a few years ago. Talk about rekindling old flames!

  6. Pingback: Who the Hell Has Time to Write These Days? | Out Where the Buses Don't Run

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