Recently, a friend of mine wrote about being jammed up working on her book. It’s a common enough complaint among writers on the internet (that’s mainly what we’re all here to do, after all. Complain about being stuck on things). However, her post came along right as I was thinking about my own book and how little progress I was making on it. Let me quote the part of her blog that was particularly apt:
When I finished the dissertation, my committee was very positive about it being publication-ready.
But I’m an idiot.
I decided I needed to write a sweeping approach to my entire field. The dissertation was too small. Too minor. It needed to be more! Bigger! Important! IMPORTANT!!
Now, her work is nonfiction and mine is a novel, but I think the problem applies more or less the same.
With my novel — which is called FUGUE for now, up until it suddenly isn’t — I had a pretty good premise and some fun characters I wanted to explore. Then, on top of that, I introduced some complicated ambiguities that leave it up to the reader to decode precisely what happened (or what they think happened, which is really all a book needs to do. There don’t have to be concrete answers). But wait, I also thought up a fun way to tell the book, a complex and dense sort of first-person narrative which I really liked. It hadn’t been done before, not quite like this. I had a gigantic pile of really new and original and edgy ideas!
Oh, and a measly six pages of work produced over nearly a goddamn year of fiddling, off and on.
So why is that? Well, a lot of it is that the ideas may have been good, they may have had legs, but I had so tangled them up with my grand and gigantic ideas, I had essentially trapped them in a straight jacket. Rather like wanting your infant to go out and play in the snow, but encasing them in a snowsuit so huge and bulky, they can’t move.
I’ve begun stripping elements out. I’ve begun taking out all the pieces of the book, examining them, and putting them back in, trying to turn a disaster into a humming engine. Will it be less clever than it might have been, than the idealized vision that was in my head? Possibly.
But here’s the hard truth of it: you can have the most genius, earth-shaking, paradigm-altering idea ever, and unless you can write it and finish it, then it is worth less than the most hackneyed piece of crap out there. A finished work is always superior to an unfinished one.
So if I had a genius and totally original-in-every-aspect book, and it’s so entangled that it never gets done, I have got to cut ropes and pull out weights until the thing can move.
Bloatware is a term used in software and video game design to talk about those features that keep appearing and being added to the product, requiring more and more work. No one ever talks about how those features suck and everyone hates them. They could be brilliant. It’s just that they add more work and delay the whole thing, and sooner or later they have to be excised. (When a video game dies, sometimes it’s because no one was controlling the bloat. All it did was expand, then sink under its own bulk).
Put it succinctly: a brilliant feature that immobilizes your book may be brilliant, but is still a waste of your time and it has to go.