When to let go of a story and when to hang on
Should we listen to the ideas we can’t get out of our head?
Have you ever had to quit a book project before? How do you know when to give up on it? I’ve been working on a fantasy novel for several years, writing & rewriting, and I’m not sure whether I should keep going with it or give up and move on. I’ve taken breaks and come back to it before too, and every time I think I’ve gotten better and can see it to the end, it just seems to get stuck again.
Ah, yes. Liz, I have in fact quit some books…Although, I can only think of one off the top of my head.
As for books like you describe—where I keep coming back to it over the years, gutting it, rewriting it, adding to it, spinning my wheels, etc.—I have many that fit that bill.
With the one project I did finally give up on, the only reason I actually “I gave up on it” is that it no longer holds any interest for me. I look at it and think, Nope. I have no spark for that anymore.
However, if a spark might one day return? You can bet I will open my Scrivener file and dive back in.
As for the many, many other projects on my hard drive that have made me want to rip out my hair…but that I still keep meandering back to…
Well, as frustrating as they are, there’s still something in them that I love. And the best example of this is my long, long suffering project, Screechers.
I started Screechers in 2010, shortly after I signed with my agent and sold my debut novel. At that time, dystopian was Super Hot and I was Super Obsessed with Fallout 3. So I imagined a dusty post apocalyptic world with monsters and two teens who stage a revolution.
Then I hammered out 50,000 words of this idea for NaNoWriMo 2010.
It was terrible. It had no heart, and I didn’t connect with it at all. I wrote words just to write words and “win NaNo,” and I chased a trend because I was still too new to writing to know that this is never a good idea.1
I set the book aside after NaNoWriMo, unsure what I would do with it…but knowing I didn’t like what I had there.
Fast forward few months, when I heard “City of Rome” from the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood soundtrack. Literally, on the first listen of that song, a whole new version of Screechers emerged in my brain. New world, new characters, new everything…except for the monsters called screechers that roamed the desert each night.
I threw out the 50K I’d written before, and I started over. The book was no longer a dystopian but instead YA fantasy.
I made decent progress in this new version throughout 2011—until a beta version of Scrivener for Linux deleted almost everything I’d written and left me with no backups. 🥴
I was disheartened after that incident, but the YA fantasy idea (and that piece of music) still called to me. Relentlessly. I knew I would try again, once I’d had some time away.
Then in 2012, I moved back to the US and I was ready to dive in anew. This time though, I changed the story from first person to third person . And I introduced more POVs: a character named Starker and another named Sun, another named Lachme, Lu, Rain, and more. The story morphed from YA fantasy into adult fantasy with way too many POVs. And it quickly swelled all the way to 90,000 words long—with lots more story still to go…
And that, Liz, is where the story has remained ever since.
I’ve picked up Screechers more times than I can count since late 2012. I’ve read and reread those 90,000 words. I’ve edited and outlined and tried to find my way back into the story…
But I’ve never managed.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Misfits & Daydreamers to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.