IT CAME FROM UNDER THE BED!
Or even worse, abandoned on a thumb drive.
Poor, isolated things.
And they’re been crying out for your attention. They’ve watched despairingly as you set them aside because of some small pause, some tiny moment of writer’s block. Just enough to get a rise out of your creative ire; enough that you growl in frustration and hit ESC. They huddle in the Neverland of a deserted desktop and cry out in sad little vowels and consonants as you open a new document, crack your knuckles, and type those much-anticipated, priceless words:
Yes, they wait. It’s not that you didn’t try. Believe me, I’m right there with you, because my own collection of story-orphans has been tucked away in their thumb-drive beds, and though I did abandon them, I think about them often. Oh, the potential. The possibilities. Left to drift in a lonely cyber-wind because I COULDN’T KEEP THE STORY MOMENTUM GOING.
See, this is a tough one. Nobody really knows why creative juices dry up. I think many authors easily come up with all kinds of excuses; I sure do. Too many outside distractions. Job hassles. A household filled with kids, chores, demanding pets. Or authors simply write like demons, fill up enough pages to make half a book, then another fab idea hits them upside the head and it’s too good, too amazing, not to start. And so, bit by bit, those piecemeal manuscripts become orphans.
To your creative peace of mind, abandoned possibilities aren’t something you want cluttering up the works. It’s the half-painted room, the partially-weeded garden. The not-quite-baked-through cookie. Nobody wants stuff hanging out in the breeze, waiting for someone to unpin it and bring it in from the cold.
Is there anything you can do for your own unfinished babies, without overly disturbing all the new plots currently percolating in your brain matter? Of course. But it’ll take a bit of planning. And you, Author, have to decide if it’s worth the time it takes to plan.
Here are a few ideas that have worked for me:
- Set aside several hours on a day when your workload is at its lightest. Instead of jumping into your current work, sift through what’s been languishing on your desktop. One by one, analyze those manuscript partials with a tight, critical eye. If it’s truly, really, honestly worth saving, then put it in a folder labeled, “I’m Gonna Finish This Sucker.” If it’s not, if you just can’t imagine doing anything with it, ever, then trash it. Yeah, yeah, I know: your baby swirls down the Recycle Bin toilet. Console yourself with a glass of wine or a dish of Rocky Road, and move on.
- Devote an entire block of quiet time to work on a selected “orphan.” I guarantee it won’t take long for you to figure out if those creative juices still flow in regards to that unfinished story. But you’ll never know until you pull it out and play with it.
- If one of those sad little partials is truly worth saving, then analyze your options truthfully. Does it need a massive genre facelift? Character re-molding? Should the tense be changed? I’m not talking small potatoes here, like the hero’s hair color going from brown to ginger. I’m talking serious changes. Because something must have happened to make you abandon your baby in the first place; something powerful enough to take you right out of the story and hurtle you into another, newer story. Whatever kicked you in the arse, you’ll need to kick yourself back in. Otherwise you might as well send it to the Land of Recycle with the other dried-up husks you already tossed out.
- Be brutally honest with yourself through the entire process. Obviously the story stymied you while you wrote on it. Basic writer’s block is one problem, and that’s a bit harder to fix because it’s a state of creative mind. But if the story itself dried up your juices, that’s when you know beyond a doubt the only saving grace is going to be intensive, internal surgery to fix it. And only you can decide if it’s worth your time and effort—and talent.
The publishing market has changed so much, just in the last five years. Stories that have been stockpiled for a decade or more might need one heck of a lift just to make them plausible in the current competitive biz. You have to be cognizant of that fact, above all else.
So if your orphans speak to you, late at night when you’re trying to catch a few Zs, then you might want to give them a listen. Your next fabulous novel might be lurking, hiding, huddled, languishing . . . waiting for that all-over body lift.
You’ll never know until you take it out and play with it.