Monday, December 01, 2014

This Writing Life 17: When is a Project Dead?

Sometimes we have pieces that just don’t work.  At all.  I’ve got at least a half-dozen short stories and one novel that will never, ever see the light of day.  Ever. But how do you know when you’ve gotten to that point?  How do you know when your labour of love/hate is dead as a Dickensian doornail and needs to be abandoned?

So let’s start with the obvious:

How Big is the Project?

If it’s a Haiku
And you’re not happy with it
Write another one.

Anything larger (and even that haiku) is worth a one last look.  And if it’s the novel you’ve been working on for the last year that you’re two-thirds of the way done but just can’t get to “the end” then it’s definitely worth trying to figure out what’s wrong with it before you toss it away.

So how do we do that?

Step Away From It

Sometimes, the best thing you need to do is to take time away from the project. Work on something else. Clean your apartment/house/whatever. Go for a seven-day hike in the bush. Whatever it is you do to put some time between yourself and a project, go do that. And when you are done that, come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

Figure Out Why It Isn’t Working

Sometimes, once you know why something isn’t working, you can fix it. With both Small Magics and Cold Magics (which you really should buy), I got badly stuck. So bad I didn’t think I could go on.  So I went back and read through each one and in both cases, figured out what I did wrong and managed to finish the book.

So go through your work and find out what’s wrong:

  • Is it a character thing?  
  • A plot thing?
  • Are you focusing too much on the theme at the expense of the story? 
  • Do you just absolutely and completely hate everything about the book and everyone in it?

Then ask yourself two questions:

  • Can I fix it?
  • Is it worth the effort?

Usually the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s no.  Both are all right, because they allow you to move on.

Let Someone Else Look at It

I don’t usually recommend this with unfinished work, but sometimes you just need an outside set of eyes to look it over and help you see the problems and get past them. If you do decide to do that, make sure of three things:

  1. The person you get to read it will be brutally honest with you.
  2. The person knows you only want them to help find what's wrong, not to help you write it.
  3. You can deal with it like an adult if they agree with you that it’s so bad it can’t be fixed.

As with Figuring out what's wrong, this may lead to a fix, it may not. Both results are good.

Let It Go

Cue Disney song here and no, I’m not linking to the video.

Seriously. You’ve taken time off, you’ve figured out what’s wrong, you’ve had friends try to help.  If, after doing that, you decide it can’t be fixed, or that you hate it too much to bother, then let it go. Move on to your next project with a lighter heart and a happy grin because you tried.

Two Notes:

If You’re Getting Paid for It, Finish It

If the contract is signed, you need to deliver, whether or not you end up working on stuff you don’t like/hate/despise with a holy passion. Finish it anyway. Because writers who don’t finish work they’re getting paid for are writers who quickly end up with no work to do.

That Said…

If you are ready to chuck in the towel on a paid project, you need to ask yourself some things first:
  • How much money will you lose?
  • What damage will it do to your relationship with the client?
  • What damage will it cause to your reputation?
  • Will you be sued for non-completion of the contract?

If the answers to those questions are something you can live with, quitting may be an option, but generally, if you are getting paid, the best thing to do is to finish.

Then, you can promise yourself to never work for that client/ on that type of project/for that little money again.

Next Time: But I don't WANT to read in public...

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