Friday, October 10, 2008

Turning back

A photo of a path on a fall day.

As promised, when to quit. When giving up isn't because you can't ever finish what you started, isn't lack of commitment or discipline, but is the right thing to do.

And there's several reasons to quit the path, all legitimate.

One could be that the path has simply disappeared. This happens, not often, thank heavens. But sometimes a great idea is only that--an idea. It turns out to not have enough substance to sustain a long work. We've all read novels with a fabulous start and an incredible idea only to have it...peter out, go flat, disappear.

Another might be that in the course of writing, your characters have taken on lives of their own (a good thing) and have kidnapped the book--snatched it off the path and taken it you-don't-quite-know-where-yet. If they've gotten too distant, i.e. you'd have to force back into this book and they so don't fit anymore, then it's another novel you need to write. So cannibalize the one you have.

Or maybe this novel was a drawer novel and as you get further along you realize that you needed to attempt a new form, a different genre, or a completely different way of writing--and that was your passion for setting off on this particular path. Now you may have learned what you wanted to learn and--poof--passion and commitment are gone. Again, go ahead and cannibalize.

Finally, you might come upon an enormous boulder or brick wall in the middle of the path and realize it's unpassable. Your plot doesn't work. Your characters have failed to engage you, so they won't anyone else. The writing just isn't there, for whatever reason.

But take heart, dear friends, and remember what W.B. Yeats said, "No work is ever wasted."

When do you give up on a work? Why? Do you ever regret the decision? Why? Do you ever return to the work and start all over? Or do you always move on? Or pull the good from it?


Jim Murdoch said...

I think I've mentioned my third novel before. Since the second was a sequel I really think of the first two as a single work. The third was 'the difficult second novel' for me. I wrote the first section and then came to a grinding halt. I had absolutely no idea where to go. So I put the work aside and wrote a collection of short stories and once they dried up then I went back to the book. The gap was exactly what it needed because I returned with a new voice and a new perspective and finishing it was no great problem.

Now I'm on my fifth. The fourth was a walk in the park, a real by-the-numbers book. This time I wrote 10,000 words and realised that the protagonist was all wrong, too young, so I scrapped everything and began again. After, I think it was 17,000 words I realised that the book wasn't working in the third person and so I started to rewrite all of that in the first person. The thought of scrapping the piece after all the work that's gone into it is unthinkable. That said, all I seem able to write at the moment is poetry so I'm writing poetry and when that dries up maybe I'll be able to get back into the book. There's no rush.

Dave King said...

I often give up on a work - as I think at th time - but, maybe years later, pull it out again and see some new direction in which I can take it. Sometimes maybe you give up the path because it's impassable in winter. You have to wait for the spring.
Excellent post Conda.

Swubird said...


You are so right. A few years ago I started a book. I toiled away for 65 pages before I finally had to give it up. The idea seemed good to me, but it just wouldn't work on paper. It even bored me, and it was my idea!

Happy trails.

Conda Douglas said...

Jim, good point about "no rush." After all it is our choice to write what we choose and when--unless of course we're under contract. And even then there's lots of writers who go--nope, not that novel, not yet.

Conda Douglas said...

Dave--my point exactly--and that's somewhat what I meant when I said "cannibalize." After putting it aside for a season--I love how you linked into the pic!--you can see the good in the work.

Conda Douglas said...

Yeah, Swu, I've had similar experiences! But I always have to pursue long enough to find that the kernel is boring me, too!

And sometimes, the idea just isn't developed enough.

Kathy McIntosh said...

Someone asked me recently if I would return to any of my earlier (rejected) novels and rewrite them.
I have learned so much since hiding them away, I'm afraid to re-read them!
I might someday go back and try a short story with a character or two I'd grown fond of.
Excellent post.