Letting Them Die

Stories. Sometimes you have to pull the plug.

I'm trying to be okay with the idea that it's okay to put a story in a drawer and move on (or move the .doc to a folder you never open again). I've started a few that have taken some serious time without ever coming to fruition - and I don't mean stories that have a first chapter, or that I've just done some brainstorming for. I've got a full manuscript, one that I was well into a second draft of, that clocks in at more than 120,000 words and I just can't bring myself to work on it anymore. It needs more layers, I think; the world it's built in is shallow and I have some ideas on how to give it more depth but it almost needs to be rewritten from scratch.

I've got a couple others that are probably half-finished, at least in terms of length, and I don't know if I'll ever finish them. One I did a lot of research for, but by the time I started to write it I felt like I still didn't have enough knowledge to aptly describe a young tribesman that lived 30,000 years ago and mingled with neanderthals. The other was pure fantasy, but I took a break when I hit a wall with it and never did come back to it. I think I will; I've been thinking a lot about that story, and I think that it would tie in really well with another story idea I've got that I think I'll start soon. That one was (is!) a steampunk fantasy, which is a genre I love and one that I would be thrilled to contribute to. I started working on that with my typewriter, so I at least have to wait until I can make time to work on that at home (tip for writers: get a typewriter; there's no easier way to procrastinate than to say 'I can't work on my book, I have to be at home at my desk 'cause I can't take my typewriter everywhere I go').

I think that being able to let go of a story is probably just a healthy part of being a writer. 'Kill your darlings' someone said (it was Faulkner; I felt like I had to look that up), and I know they're talking about your words, but I think that sentiment can certainly apply to a work as a whole. Pull the plug on the whole thing. They can't all live - some of them would just be horrendous Frankenstein monsters, shuffling around with mis-matching parts, tense all out of whack, no subject agreement whatsoever, and a hodgepodge of style that would just be embarrassing for their creators.

Some stories I just haven't known how to finish (that fantasy novel; I still don't really think it has a satisfying ending). With some I stopped caring about the characters (you were cool, viking crew, but you were all so damned flat). Some I loved but just felt like I wasn't doing them justice (Nonsa, II haven;t forgotten about you).

I'm working on a new one (which I've probably jinxed just by mentioning in this post) and I was thinking the other day about shelving it so that I could start to work on another exciting idea that I had just had. I really wanted to strike while the iron was hot, so I took my notebook and went for a walk so that I could get some of my ideas onto paper, and I ended up having a single thought about the manuscript that I was ready to put on hold. So I wrote it down. That led to another idea. And a new character. And that character could be a means for the two main characters to meet... and under some seriously terrible circumstances! I ever did end up getting to that new novel before the sun went down, and I couldn't wait to keep working on my current book when I got back.

Maybe it's good to continually reevaluate whether you want to keep working on a story. I think we should all do that with every part of our lives - take them out every so often, dust them off, and decide anew whether they're worth keeping with you. Beliefs, opinions, fears. And stories. I don't love to think about how much time I've wasted slaving away on a story that I wasn't excited about, that I worked on only out of a sense of obligation. Who am I obliging, anyway? I'm not famous, and I don't have fans clamoring for the next book. My favorite part is working on the first draft of a book, so there's no need to press myself to finish for my own sake (at least in that regard). I think it's important to be continually producing good work, but if I'm not in love with it then how good can it really be? Maybe it's not worth producing at all.

I need to keep writing, and I know that, but I've wasted a lot of time putting off writing at all because I was working on something that I wasn't all that interested in working on. I'm realizing that if I want to be continually working on something then I have to be willing to toss out the project I was working on yesterday and start something new the next day, if I'm to keep from wasting my own time.

I'm not pulling the plug on the book I'm working on now, but I'll reevaluate tomorrow.