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It's not you, it's me
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I recently came to the startling realization that my current writing project isn’t working out — not the way I’d like it to, anyhow. I’ve actually spent time over the past few weeks staring at my manuscript pages, thinking: I’m sorry, but it’s just not working out between us and I need some time to think things over and Perhaps we should spend a little time apart.

And, finally: It’s not you, it’s me.

I was glad to learn I’m not the only one who thinks of a writing project like a relationship: When I emailed a writer friend to whine about my challenges, she suggested that perhaps my project needed a little time on its own to “get over its bad behavior,” that maybe it would eventually come back to me “full of contrition and bearing flowers.” Which made me feel very hopeful.

So how does one get through a tough writing period without extensive therapy and/or self-medication? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I’ve got a few tips that I hope will help…

- Get by with a little help from your (writing) friends. Reach out to fellow writers and see if they’ve dealt with similar issues; most likely they have, and they can prescribe time, patience, alcohol, whatever. It just helps to know that, like relationships, a writing project sometimes gets off to a bad start, hits a rough patch, or needs a serious intervention. All this is okay; it’s part of the process. And sometimes we need an outside opinion as to what the problem might be.

- Get some feedback. Ask your writing partner or writing group for a brainstorming session. Sometimes writers need to take a big step back from their pages and look at a project as a whole: where it’s been, where it is now, where it’s headed, and how it’s going to get there.

- Weigh your options. Picture yourself giving up on your project completely. Whether it’s a story, a poem, or novel, is this something that you can give up forever? Or set aside and come back to later? Or is it a story you must tell now? If the idea of setting it aside fills you with relief, then this is a clear sign. If you can’t imagine giving up on it, then continue.

- Spend a little time apart. As much as you love and adore your writing project, all that togetherness isn’t necessarily a good thing. Just as a relationship can get stifling when a couple spends every moment together, so a story needs to breathe on its own a bit. By taking some time away from whatever you’re working on, you might gain a new perspective on it, appreciate new and different things about it, and/or bring something fresher to the keyboard or notebook next time you show up. (And if you can’t stand not writing at all, you can work on other things in the meantime.)

- Remember that thinking is writing. It’s common for writers to feel that they need words on a page to be “writing” (and freewriting to discover what you’re thinking is great), but often, because staring into space for hours on end doesn’t feel very productive, we neglect the important thinking stage altogether, which can lead to problems later. Take a few steps back. Think it over.

- Recycle. Finally, if you do come to the conclusion that your project isn’t going to work out, hang onto everything you’ve accomplished so far. Even if the project isn’t right for you at this time in your life (and timing is everything), you’ll want to have kept all those gems you came up with during the process.

As for my project? I’ve realized that a structural obstacle was tainting the whole thing, so I’m approaching it in a completely different way. And it’s helping: my project and I are seeing each other regularly again, and hoping to make it work this time. It may not lead to happily ever after — but it’ll be something close enough.