On July 21, 2018, Raina wrote, Has anyone ever had the problem where your current project isn’t working, but for some reason you just can’t let it go and move on to a new project, leaving you in a weird writing limbo? I had a story in the works, but recently there was a book published with the exact same plot (and I don’t mean with the same general story structure; the specific premise and character goals are exactly the same, and it’s a pretty unique concept, not a widely-used trope), forcing me to do a complete overhaul of my story. I’ve spent the past month trying, but everything I come up with either doesn’t work, or is something that is fine objectively but I just don’t want to write. I know that the most logical option would be to accept the unfortunate coincidence and move on since this idea clearly isn’t working (at least for now) and I have a bunch of other story ideas which I’m more excited about, but some lingering stubbornness in me refuses to let go. I think it’s because I’ve been working on this for so long, that I’ve gotten too attached to the idea and am clinging to it out of sheer stubbornness. Any suggestions/encouragement? In this instance my problem isn’t not having something to write, but rather giving up on writing it.
Has this ever happened to anybody here?
Melissa Mead wrote back, Maybe save it in a “later” folder? You’re not quitting. You’re just letting it sit.
I agree with Melissa Mead that may be a good way to go.
I’ve mentioned here before that it took me four-and-a-half years to write Stolen Magic, a miserable four-and-a-half years at that. I got lost. My plot was too complicated and yet didn’t really boil down to much. I wrote hundreds of pages and tossed them. I gave myself a month’s vacation to gain perspective, which didn’t work, either. But, like Raina, I was too stubborn to walk away and start something else. In the end, though, without realizing it, I did do something new, because the story I wound up with has very little connection with the one I meant to write.
I’ve talked about this before, too: In economics, there’s something called sunk costs. My story was a sunk cost, because I’d sunk so much time into it, and if I abandoned it, that time would be lost. I didn’t know the terminology then, but I knew I didn’t want to give up the time.
And in economics there’s also opportunity costs. While I was thrashing about with Stolen Magic, I was wasting the time I might have spent more productively in writing other stories.
I held onto my sunk cost and paid the opportunity cost. (I hope no economists are reading this since I’m probably expressing it all wrong–but the theory is right.)
I’m bringing this up, because it helps us see what’s going on, and economics makes the question less emotional. Our heart may be aching over the possibility of a break-up with our beloved WIP, but we lift our heads and see all the other stories that would like to woo us.
We can ask ourselves what, other than sunk costs, makes the separation so hard. Is it the theme? Our MC? A secondary character? The tone? A particular plot twist? Does this story concern a problem we can’t stop thinking about? I’m more likely to come up with answers if I ask these questions in writing, in my notes.
Once we’ve figured out what we’re so drawn to in our WIP, we can consider how to use that thing or things in a new story. We can make a list! With luck, soon we’re off and running, with something partly old, partly new.
In Raina’s case, the published book and the WIP are very close, but–just saying–suppose she’d never read and never even heard of the other one? She would have had the satisfaction of finishing her story, and maybe, while she was writing, it would have diverged so much from the other that the resemblance became very faint.
Ideas, as you may know, aren’t copy protected. Only their expression is. Probably no one today would dare write a book about a boy in wizard school, but if Rip Van Winkle woke up and wrote such a book, he wouldn’t be sued, and his would probably be very little like Harry Potter.
Bud Not Buddy, an orphan story by Christopher Paul Curtis, which won the Newbery award in 2000, came out in the same year as my orphan story, Dave at Night. When I met Christopher Paul Curtis, he said that if our books hadn’t been published at roughly the same time, one of us would have been suing the other. I didn’t think so. I certainly wouldn’t have felt that he had stolen anything from me. I don’t think either of us lost readers as a consequence. A result, though, was that the two books were often reviewed together, not set against each other, but in tandem.
I don’t read much fantasy these days, and I stay away from fairy tale retellings, because I don’s want to be influenced. If something comes into my head that already flowed out of someone else’s typing fingers, so be it. I’m innocent. I didn’t get it from that other author.
Raina asks for encouragement. All I have to offer is that the writing life isn’t easy, but we are constantly surprised and delighted by the buried treasure our deep brains offer up to us. One project may not work out, but it’s just one of many, with many more to come. Onward!
Here are three prompts:
∙ Write a story about a young ant in ant wizard school.
∙ Pick one of the lost boys in Peter Pan or one of the dwarfs in “Snow White” and give him his own story, weaving in threads from the classic.
∙ Eliza Dolittle of My Fair Lady, who sells flowers in London, is almost but not quite a beggar. Write a scene from her back story that enables her to keep her dignity and self-respect.
Have fun, and save what you write!