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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Killing Me Softly

I used to compare a work in progress to a body on an operating table. If you keep working on it, you can keep it alive. If you leave it for too long, it goes cold. What happens then? When you’ve left the Play-doh outside the can? When you can’t find your way back into a piece. How long before there’s no pulse: a day? three? ten? a month?

What do you do when you lose your way? When your writing doesn’t recognize you, or you it? I’d like to think that work that doesn’t come to fruition is a form of practice. That everything you write need not come to completion, that there is still value in the practice. (I believe this on some level, but I’m also grossed out imparting such a positive world view which runs contrary to everything I believe about writing and life.) What I want to know is this: when do you resuscitate and when is it a DNR?

19 Responses

  1. I think if you truly believe in something you’re writing and you start to think of it as an extension of you, maybe even like a child, then you should resuscitate it. You would resuscitate your real child, would you not? That’s how I look at it. I hardly ever write without a plan to complete. At the most I decide an idea might be better as just a short, so I end it early. Hmmm…would that be the same as a DNR? Maybe not. After all, I got a chance to see it all the way through to its end. 🙂

  2. If you can return to a project and still be stimulated, see areas where you can improve, even if that means slashing most of the material, it’s worth resuscitating.

    Cheers, Simon.

  3. I think the work itself tells you how eager it is to live. Even if it lies doggo for months or years, it can keep niggling at you till you pick it up and look at it again. Sometimes this could mean you decide to re-birth the whole thing (ideally having become a better writer in the interim). Or you might hook up the electrodes and jolt it back to life where you left off. Or after rereading the poor thing, you might just decide to let it keep moldering away. (This is a pretty gruesome metaphor.) Everything is a learning experience, no?

  4. If I love the premise I’ll come back to it. Right now I’m rewriting my first manuscript, a story I considered finished in more ways than one a few years ago.

  5. What does ‘can’t find your way back into a piece’ mean? You see that keyboard? That’s your way back in.

    I resuscitate if I think someone’ll pay me. Otherwise I cannibalize. The last project I sold, I wrote the first draft in 1998. The project my agent’s sending out next month started in a different genre.

    I agree that the saccharin sentiment horrifies, but writing is writing. We won’t learn how to complete a project if we keep abandoning them, but every million words is another decade wasted. I mean, another lesson learned.

  6. I don’t think you should resuscitate something that’s lost a pulse. You can transplant parts of it into a new novel, chalk it up to practice, etc.. Chances are your new project/idea will be better. I usually give it at least a year, although I worked on one novel for close to three years before I officially declared it dead.

  7. I’m in the camp of Sherry (above), who worded my thoughts perfectly.
    It will demand to be revisited, or it wont.
    It will whimper from the back of the drawer, begging, nagging, no matter how loud and magical the shiny new project. No matter the time, the distance, you still hear its heartbeat.
    Without that proof of life, it’s dead to me.

    ~Lola

  8. When I return to unfinished work that I haven’t touched for a long period I look for it to inspire me, to make my heart jump and give me butterflies. If it does, I’ve got something that’s worth saving. If, on the other hand, it bores me and I can’t remember why I wrote it in the first place, it’s getting buried.

  9. sometimes stories don’t work and they’re a learning tool. there’s always something of value contained within, too. i mined a bunch of crappy exercises i wrote for descriptions of bar life and used them in a new series of stories. recycle, reuse.

  10. August said it.

  11. Books to me are like children. We nourish and feed our muse and watch it grow to fruition. Believing so makes it difficult to pull the plug doesn’t it?

    But like children sometimes these works of ours have a mind of their own and rebel against whatever we thought to make of them. In those instances as a parent would do, you let them free (put those words away). Over time, the rebel resist and these children look differently to us and we see other possibilities for them.

    Maybe they wouldn’t have worked in one piece of writing, but in another they thrive.

    A bit like parenting. There isn’t a definite right or wrong on what to do in some cases. (Hugs)Indigo

  12. If it’s rotten, cut it out. Without mercy. If it works, keep it in. Without mercy.

    The trick is knowing the difference.

  13. I keep writing past it. Eventually the DNR part is okay to DNR because the heart has survived.

  14. I’m honestly working through this right now. I do not yet have an answer. I’ve been toiling over this very thing, and actually posted about it on my blog as I was so frustrated. When do we “call it” as a flatliner? Or, do we tear it apart and recreate it a thousand times? Will it be a Frankenstein, better off dead, with just pieces and parts of its original intention? Or, a rebirth of something beautiful? I wish I knew.

  15. Makes me think about gardening–and compost (which is a lot like writing if you think about it). Even things I thought dead and buried have a way of sprouting again.

    Great post, thoughtful comments, awesome blog.

  16. my work in progress behaves very much like my cat; when I’m back home after being away for, say, a couple of weeks, at first he pretends he doesn’t recognize me; positively turns his back on me and plays unapproachable. Then, after a while, if I play my offerings right, he first smells my hand, then comes a bit closer, and finally purrs and lies down on the floor belly up (book never does this, though). But definitely I have to show up and work my way through it. Unlike clay pots, I find a piece of writing never dries, it always leaves a bit of space for you to accomodate again. The only way I can think of a working progress going sour and dead is if it’s gone sour in your own heart, not the other way round.
    Most awesome blog as usual!

  17. If you don’t recognize your work, it is the perfect time to start editing. If nothing else comes of it (if the process doesn’t open up new paths of movement), you get the practice, and you get to have that rare chance to objectively (insofar as that is possible) see what you think of your writing. Really excellent if not a damn thing is familiar.

  18. Sometimes you have to leave a project to make money to survive. That’s the case with most writers. In today’s America, it is not possible to live a Bohemian life on little money and just write. That’s too bad because it means that everyone is writing for the market and not to create literature. Literature is writing that changes one’s perception of reality. Everything else is a crock of shit. Creating real literature is emotionally exhausting, so working and creating it at the same time is quite difficult. All these mother fucking agents and editors who wouldn’t know real literature if it hit them in the face should fuck off. When Barney Rosset sold Grove Press, the last authentic publisher in America vanished from the scene. Did you know that the CIA subsidized the American publishers for ages and that The Paris Review was always a CIA front? All of this is pretty disillusioning and is no joking matter. Publishing today has become a total nightmare as well as a relic of the past. What we need is a “right to read” movement!!!!!

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