The Object Lesson: Let go

How do you give up on these things? I mean, they get to a point where they’re almost like your kids. You conceive of them, you work on them until they begin to take shape, you (hopefully) finish them, and then you have to take a step back and try to objectively evaluate what you’ve made. Which you hopefully don’t do so much with kids, but I think the analogy still kind of works.

There are two ways to abandon a story, in my experience. There’s simple neglect–something that I’m trying to be better at avoiding, with moderate success–because I think if you let something sit too long it slips away from you and you lose what drew you to it in the first place. The images fade and you have less to work with. It’s possible to pick it up then, but it’s harder.

And then there’s working on it, finishing a draft, and having to admit to yourself, once it’s done, that you don’t really have much there worth spending any more time on. I hate doing that. I hate it because time is precious right now and I try to make every second of work count towards something potentially publishable, so having to admit to myself that the result of a week of work should be put away and probably not ever shown to anyone absolutely kills me. But it’s also that at least initially, something there made me fall in love enough that I wanted to bring it out into the light and turn it into something real. So I look at the thing that ended up bad or just too flawed to work with, and I feel like a little bit of a failure. I failed the story. I didn’t do my job.

I had to do this recently, so it’s on my mind a bit. I had two concurrent projects in the last couple of weeks, not including the novel I’m co-writing; one of them turned out pretty well and I’m ready to start shopping it around, but the other one… I knew partway through that I was losing it, but sometimes I feel like that without any good reason, so I’ve learned that it’s worth it, most of the time, to keep pushing through it and hope that there’s light on the other side.

That didn’t happen in this case. I was left with over six thousand words of meh–the plot was half-formed, the characters weren’t as engaging as I’d hoped, and the entire thing felt sort of clumsy and unoriginal, and in the end I decided that I had to shelve it indefinitely. I’m annoyed with myself for failing my idea, because at least at first I thought it was a good one. I’m annoyed with myself for not being good enough to carry it off.

I’m trying to get away from looking at the time as wasted, though. It was an experiment, and even a failed experiment can be learned from. Hopefully I now have a better idea of what to avoid in the future, and there were even some things that did work, turns of phrase and snatches of imagery, and I want to remember them because maybe they’ll find a home in another story.

But it’s still hard. I don’t expect this to be the last time it happens, and I don’t expect it to get any easier.

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