Ready to scrap a writing project? Read this first.

Last Tuesday, Jane Friedman critiqued my website as part of her new series, The Business Clinic. At first, this offer sounded intimidating, but Jane is a dear friend and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to gain her insights, and in the process, help all of you. Plus, I trusted she would make this a positive experience for me and everyone else.  

I’ve known for a while my website needs some major improvements. Unfortunately, theme customization by a onetime web designer has made those upgrades extremely challenging. On good days, regular updates take up a lot of my time. At its worst, the process makes me lose my cool. Imagine rage cleaning, but with less cleaning and a lot more swearing and a deep desire to throw some furniture.

While I love swearing, rage designing isn’t something I relish, so I’ve avoided my website’s issues.

But there comes a point when the work needed to avoid a problem exceeds the work required to fix it. That’s why I chose to participate in Jane’s new program.

Going through a live critique elicited all the feels you might imagine, from elation about receiving such detailed advice, to overwhelm about that detailed advice, to angst as I discovered some of my site’s deficits along with everyone else.

Concepts like metadata, SEO, Serpstat, and Google Console whirled through my head as I furiously scribbled notes about data tracking and the large- and small-scale changes I needed to make STAT. Fortunately, I have the resources to hire someone who can assist me with this reboot. But even then, I have to make all the decisions. After transcribing my ten pages of hand-written notes, I had the urge to scrap everything and start fresh.

On Twitter, I’ve seen a number of NaNoWriMo participants who are also  in scrap-everything mode. They lament the plot holes they can’t cross or the characters who’ve destroyed their entire concept. Some have started entirely new stories, while others have given up.  

It’s tempting to abandon your work when you’re frustrated and overwhelmed. But trashing your projects is like trashing yourself.

Instead, what you need to do is pivot.

According to Merriam Webster, pivot has two definitions. It can mean to turn on—as in she pivoted on her heel. Or it can mean to adapt or improve by adjusting or modifying something (such as a product, service, or strategy).

Neither definition includes the words scrap, destroy, or abandon.

What’s required is an adjustment. First, we adjust mentally to the idea of change, then we make the actual changes.

Discontent helps us prepare for change. While it might be uncomfortable, discontent is actually your ally. When we get frustrated with our websites, suddenly hate our stories, or get bored with a concept, we’re open to doing something else and have a willingness to see things from a new angle.

From that place of discontent, think of what you actually want. For example, if you’re working through your first NaNoWriMo, word count alone might be your focus. In this case, success might look like writing 50,000 words, even if they’re associated with multiple stories. But maybe you’ve done that before, or perhaps you really want to be a novelist. If that’s the case, your efforts need to be in service of a single story.

Once you’ve mentally prepared for change and you know what you want, it’s time to turn on your heel.

But before you shift, make a list of what’s working. Perhaps you have an engaging character, or a strong plot concept. Maybe your voice is captivating or your sentences sing. Place a list of your project’s strengths in an area where you can visit them regularly. More importantly, make them the foundation from which you’ll pivot. 

Next, look for the small changes you can make. When it comes to storytelling, ask yourself the following questions.

What if my problematic character did something else?
What if I wrote the story in a slightly different way?
What if I kept going and let the story work itself out? 

Instead of cleaving to a specific genre or certain expectations for your story, let your story tell you what it wants to become. For example, maybe you need to accept that what you thought was comedy noir is actually a romance. A subtle change in your perception might be all that’s required. If you need more, keep characters that are working well and gently modify anything that’s getting in your way.  

Next, affirm your ability to make these changes. Maybe you never thought you’d write a romance novel, and hell, you don’t even know what they include. But if you end up loving this story, you are a smart, capable, resourceful writer who knows how to read craft books, take classes, join forums, or whatever is needed to birth your story. You have what it takes to be successful.

Now own your potential by writing some affirmations that remind you of your strengths. Keep them handy and read them regularly. Then reward yourself for every step along the path.

If you stumble, remind yourself that writing projects, careers, and even websites require numerous shifts, pivots, and course corrections. But there are no failures; there are only iterations. 

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