When to Call it Quits

Yesterday, I laid to rest my current writing project.

It was, in its way, simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing I’ve done and, for me, was not unlike having to put down a beloved pet.  You know in your heart that it’s the right thing to do, but you balk at taking that final step.  Unlike a pet, of course, it’s possible that in time I might resurrect the story with a fresh idea on how to approach it, but it’s not likely.  Dead is dead.

It’s frustrating, because I know there’s a story in there somewhere, but damned if I can find it.  I like the characters individually, but together they just don’t work.  Dialogue is flat, action is molasses-slow.  There’s no spark, only plod-plod-plod.  I reached a point where I couldn’t put two words together and feel confident about them.  I began to question my ability as a writer and that, more than anything, told me it was time to raise the white flag.  Better I spend my time working on a project that has me excited to come to the computer in the morning rather than dreading it.  Better to write a story that leaves me pleased with the work, rather than frustrated.

It’s not as if I’m the first writer to lay aside a project.  I’m in good company, if one is to believe the ‘Forwards’ in many books.  Stephen King has written more than once about the need to put a project aside or consign an entire manuscript to the dead file (what I believe he calls a “trunk novel”).  Oh, but it’s hard!  Writing, if done right, takes a helluva lot of work and energy.  You sweat blood.  And to realize, in the end, that all that time was wasted . . .

But was it?  I prefer to think not.  Oh, sure, I’d love to reclaim that lost time and put it to better use, but I need to look back over that period and focus on what I learned about the craft of writing as well as myself as the writer.

The big lesson for me this time around was that no matter how strongly I believe in a story, I can’t FORCE it to appear.  I can cajole, I can even sometimes exert a little pressure, but if the story isn’t there . . . well, perhaps it isn’t meant to be.  Perhaps it will be there for someone else down the line.

And that’s okay.  We each have our tales to tell.  This one wasn’t mine.

So rest in peace Kirian and Cai, Rosamund and Gunnar, Talarin and Quinlan and Hashatan.  We gave it our best shot.  Thanks for the ride.  Thanks for the lesson.  Maybe, in the end, that’s why I created you in the first place.



About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
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4 Responses to When to Call it Quits

  1. Brittany says:

    I struggle with this too. So many trunk novels. So few that I ever finished the first chapter. Fewer still that reach past 10,000 words. All of them discarded eventually. I’m still looking for the one that works, and every time I have to throw one out, I feel like maybe I’m giving up too soon.

    My philosophy at this stage in my writing career is to let them live on, keep them in a medically induced coma as it were, just in case they ever regain enough vitality to be reintroduced to a pen. I figure that maybe, just maybe, I’ll end up writing one of those ‘Forwards’. Or perhaps I’m just too naive and stubborn to let them go.

    • If it’s any consolation, Britt, I believe all writers go through this. You have to rely on your gut instinct. You’re smart enough, I’m sure, to “feel” when something is working and when it isn’t. (LISTENING to that inner voice is another issue — and I’m a case in point). I think it’s important to keep all those scraps and bits of novels and short stories because YOU NEVER KNOW what will induce a spark one day. And, if nothing else, it’s good to look back now and then at where you were, if only to see how far you’ve come. And just so you know — STUBBORNNESS is a good thing for a writer to have.

  2. Pami Fowler Woolsey says:

    I believe that your characters will come to life, in another tale… Probably when you least expect it! In the middle of the night, when you are stuck in traffic, on the plane to somewhere, or in a restraunt that key word will SPARK your fantisy… The tale will be completly different than what you tried to write the first time, because it won’t be forced out… The words will flow out, as if a magical pen appeared in your hand! I love it when this happens…

    • Thanks, Pami! From your mouth to God’s ears!! Meanwhile, I have another idea or two brewing. Those of you wanting another tale set in the “Weathercock’ universe might just get your wish…..

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