Ok, so we’ve all got those projects that give us trouble. Take me, for example. I have a novel I finished in the 2012 NaNoWriMo, that I’ve been “working on” ever since. I just can’t seem to get it right. I even pitched it at last year’s RMFW conference, knowing full well that it just wasn’t ready. (On a side note, never pitch something that just isn’t ready.)
So after figuring out was wrong with it–partially based on that failed pitch session, and partially based on facts I already know–I put that novel aside, abandoning it, at least temporarily.
But it does beg the question. When should you take an extended break from a project, and when should you work your way through it?
Well, there are certainly times when it’s a good idea to put a story or novel aside, at least for a few months, and sometimes longer. But before I get to that, let me make a quick suggestion, and that is that you should never permanently abandon a story. Instead, keep a folder of stories you’re not currently working on and save it there. Maybe you will never go back to it, but you never know. A solution to the problem you had with it might pop into your head one day, and then you’ll be happy you saved the story.
I wrote a piece of flash fiction nearly five years ago that just never really sat well with me. It was, to date, the only story I’ve ever written that had no fantasy, science fiction, or horror element. So I just kind of let it “die” a peaceful death in a non-working-on-WIP folder. But I took it out again earlier this year, cleaned it up a bit, and it’s going to be published in October.
Anyhow, just like the novel I mentioned earlier, when I first wrote that short story, I felt that there were just too many problems and I didn’t want to waste any more time on it. So I put it away for a long time.
And with all of that out of the way, here are my four times when you should put a project aside (for a while).
If you’re bored
This one is a no-brainer. If your current WIP is so boring you fantasize about going to meetings at your day job when you should be working on it, then you need to take a break from it. Remember: If you are bored, your reader will certainly be bored. Now, to be clear, however, I am talking about the writing process. Sometimes editing can get boring if you’re on your twentieth read-through, but when you’re writing something? It needs to be fun. If it’s not fun, put it aside.
If you find too many structural problems
This was my problem with the novel. Problems with plot just kept creeping in. Actually, it was worse than that. Plot can be fixed. I started noticing problems with the setting. The world-building just wasn’t done properly, and on that last read-through before taking a break, I started finding tons of inconsistent, or unaddressed problems with the governing rules of the world, and the structure of society in general. It got so bad that I realized certain scenes either shouldn’t exist, should be rewritten entirely.
If you can’t figure out how to end it
I have a couple of short stories that I really love. But they not in my current WIP folder for the simple reason that I just can’t get an ending to work. These are actually longer stories too (at least by my standard). Sometimes it’s okay to just put an ending on, but when it comes to a longer piece, I feel like you need a better build to the end. This was the case with a story I started about three years ago, where I wrote the first 4500 words or so, but just got stuck. Eventually I started figuring things out and late last year added another 4000 words to complete a pretty cool story. It’s currently unpublished, but has been shortlisted twice on semi-pro and pro markets, so I’ve still got some confidence in it.
If the characters are all flat
Finally, this one is a little more difficult to determine, but if you’re working on a story and having trouble keeping track of who is saying what, and the characters all seem interchangeable, then you’ve got some problems. The last thing you want is for a reader to have trouble differentiating between the characters. Actually, that’s the second-to-last thing. The last thing you want is for the reader to not care about your characters at all. If you’ve got a story full of characters no one can related to, then you really have some problems and it’s either time to rewrite your characters all together, or put the story aside for a while you let some new characters incubate in your head.
And with that, I say it’s a good idea to find a story to work on that is fun, has a well though-out world, an awesome ending, and interesting characters to work on 🙂
So take care, I’ll be back soon, and until then, feel free to leave a comment and share some info about some of your abandon projects and whether or not your were able to bring them back to life.