My guy has a little control board sitting in a box on his work bench. Not an unusual thing; on the equipment he works on these boards are pretty common now. When one burns up or fails, he has to swap them out. It must be under warranty, too, because the board's box has a big yellow Return Information label on the top.
It's the label, not the board, that keeps distracting me. It has a check-off list of seven reasons for the return:
Failed at installation
Failed after storm
Changed board during troubleshooting
Too many defrosts
High utility bills
I wish we writers could return ideas to the muse that way. The checklist wouldn't even have to change that much:
Failed at installation: I never got past page one. Oh, look, cookies.
Failed after temper tantrum: Oops, I just accidentally on purpose killed off all the characters. Next story!
Changed during troubleshooting: While I was editing this I got this idea. It's way better than this one. So I'm going to write that.
No writing: Love the idea, have no clue how to write it. And I'll probably talk about it forever but not one word is actually going to hit the page.
Too much writing: The manuscript is two thousand pages long and that's just chapter one. Do you think I should get trim down the thousand-year war of the orcs and the dragons? Maybe cut it to five hundred?
Incomplete writing: I got to the third chapter and then gave up. Which publisher accepts partials again?
High utility bills: I can't write this, I have to do stuff for my day job before I get fired and they turn off my power again.
Although I hate beginnings, I have no problem starting novels, and I'm also fairly adept at getting through the middles and wrapping up the endings. My biggest problem in the past was never finishing anything. I'd start approaching the end of the story, my energy and enthusiasm would begin to lag and I'd get bored with it.
Boredom sets up a writer to be easily distracted, and more tempted to set aside the WIP to do something else. I used to start sneaking away from the manuscript to work on other stories, and then found myself growing more resentful every time I went back to the old story, until I gave up on it. It's the classic oooh bright and shiny new idea syndrome combined with poor time management. I always put keeping my energy levels high as a priority over finishing my stories -- which is why there are about ten boxes of unfinished manuscripts in my storage closet.
You can't sell 2/3rds of a novel, and that was what motivated me to deal with my problem. I knew I was fighting myself, not the work, so my habits had to change. I made a new rule: never start anything unless I was going to finish it. That spurred me to be a lot more selective about ideas. I also started quickly outlining the new ideas that came along to distract me and then set them aside versus working on them.
I still felt the same dip in energy at the 2/3rd done mark, and a deep sense of resentment over never having enough time to write everything I wanted, so to address that I focused on training myself to write faster. I also forced myself to write through the tiresome, boring draggy final third of the story. As the finished manuscripts began piling up, I saw a gradual change in my attitude. The rush from a new idea began to pale beside the weary satisfaction of having nailed a story from start to finish. I also felt more like a writer, too -- I wasn't just having fun anymore; I was making a real effort. I wasn't playing or dabbling, I was working.
I don't consider any writing to be a failure; you can learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. Occasionally taking a hard look at all your unfinished or unsuccessful ideas and stories to evaluate them for their flaws will arm you with knowledge. You'll identify your weaknesses, and may even bring to light a pattern in your writing process or story habits that is proving counterproductive.
So if you could add something to the muse return information list for a story that didn't work for you, what would be the reason?