The Ones You Walk Away From

(My apologies to Ms. Le Guin for the advertent pun.  This post has nothing to do with her story.  It’s just about writing.) 

When do you know it’s time to walk away from a writing project?  Sooner rather than later, you hope.  Better to put aside a story during the outline than decide it doesn’t work on the seventeenth draft.   

My last project was an example of the latter.  It was a book I knew I had to get out of my system before I could write anything else, and, having spent eight years writing The Stoneways, I had no desire to jump into any of the longer projects I had in mind.  So I wrote the book, polished it up, and sent it off to my beta readers. 

Half of them liked it.  The other half said, meh. 

Unfortunately, the mehs all agreed.  When multiple beta readers agree about a book’s drawbacks, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to what they’re saying, no matter how many other readers like it.  They gave me some good possible fixes, but all of their suggestions pushed the book away from the direction I wanted it to go, so I ended up moving on to the next project instead.  I didn’t like it, but I had to acknowledge that I hadn’t pulled off what I was trying to do, either because I didn’t have the writing chops to pull it off, or because the idea wasn’t that good in the first place.  (Hopefully my problem is the former – you can always improve.  But you can’t make a silk purse out of a cliché.) 

Sometimes you just have to walk away.  Get some distance, give the hindbrain time to poke at the idea while you work on something else.  I already have some ideas, even. 

I just wished I’d figured out what I was doing wrong six months ago. 

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  1. 1. Mary

    After acquiring a stack of half-finished stories, I took up outlining. It takes a lot longer for half-finished outlines to turn into a stack. (if it works for you.)

    And I discovered that reading through a stack of half-finished stories can be rather revealing about what your weak points are, because you can lose interest because the thought of writing something you can’t write well puts you off the story.

  2. 2. S0BeUrself

    Six months worth of writing isn’t a total waste – you kept up your craft and learned a valuable lesson. Bitter silver linings are still silver linings. God luck ~

  3. 3. vlecomer

    Sam, do you feel like you would be able to tell when even your most trusted sounding boards are wrong? I’ve thought about this many times over the years. Would I have the stones to recognize the one time that outside judgement missed some inner driven potential that only needed self-stimming to bear fruit. I don’t mean that natural reaction to someone saying you can’t do something, rather, more recognizing that glimmer of light in a lump of coal that only you could see if you just looked harder or from a different angle. Just curious.

  4. 4. Steve Buchheit

    And you got it out of your system so you can do other things now.

  5. 5. S.C. Butler

    Mary – Sigh. I wish I could outline. But my brain freezes after about four scenes.

    S0BeUrself – I didn’t think writing it was a waste. I just wish I’d figured out it wasn’t a novel a little sooner. And you’re right – it was a story I had to write and learn from.

    Steve – Not sure I’ve quite gotten it out of my system.

  6. 6. S.C. Butler

    Vic – Don’t know if I’d be able to tell if my most trusted sounding boards were wrong. And not all of them thought this book was bad – some of them really liked it. What caught my attention was the fact that they all agreed it was too literary (very little happens in the story), which was my fear from the start.

    Weird the way you comment comes up before Steve’s 12 hours after I first saw Steve’s.

  7. 7. Ty

    One got 45,000 words into a novel before going back to start over. It was the right thing to do. The plot was getting away from me, going in directions which I did not want. Finally finished the book at about 88,000 words. It was the right thing to do.

    Of course I’ve also got 70,000 words of a novel I started 20 years ago and haven’t touched in at least 15 years.

  8. 8. S.C. Butler

    Ty – I’ve done the same thing, only I don’t start over. I just start writing from that point on according to the new idea. Then I go back and redo the beginning.

    I hate losing momentum.

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S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.

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