Right now, I’m calling it my “graveyard problem”. As a writer, you probably experience something similar. You’ve started writing books and stories. Some work, but quite a few ended up tossed aside because they didn’t work. Maybe you got professional manuscript consultation, maybe not. Either way, you’ve given up and know letting a story go can be tough.
But is giving up the wrong thing?
My “graveyard problem” refers, of course, to the boneyard of old stories I leave in my wake. It also makes reference to a particularly difficult short story I have been working on forever. It involves a gravedigger. I have written this story as an Old West period piece, set in rural Oregon in the 1890’s. I’ve written this story as a contemporary thriller.
I’ve even tried to re-write my gravedigger story in a science fiction scenario.
No matter how hard I try though, the story just does not work. I’ve picked the gravedigger idea up and put it down so many times, I’m dizzy. So, off my gravedigger story goes… to the graveyard.
This got me thinking, how does a writer know that a story isn’t going to work? I looked back at the journey I took with my gravedigger story and came up with four tell-tale signs the story was going nowhere.
1.) When The Story Doesn’t Speak To You:
Let me reel back and get to a core idea here, your goal is to write a good story.
In order to get out a good story, a writer needs to achieve the standard of good writing. A good story that is well told. Often, quality gets glossed over, but I feel it’s critical to bold, italicize and ALL-CAPS this idea.
When I do a manuscript consultation, I like to start off with this like a mantra.
Good writing speaks to its reader. Your writing, even though you are very close to it, should continue to speak to you throughout the process. This is what moves you, motivating and inspiring along the way. While writing a story, if you lose track of the core aspects, or fail to recognize what you love… it may be time.
Why does this matter? This looks to me like evidence of straying from the core idea.
In my gravedigger story, the core idea was the main character’s self-proclaimed nerves of steel. He had seen it all and was steadfast that nothing could get under his skin. I strayed from that. I wrote doubts and hang-ups. Suddenly, it wasn’t the character I loved anymore. At this point, he stopped speaking to me.
2.) When You Force The Story Into Situations In Order To Stay Engaged:
I think of this as like that married couple who has been together a little too long. Really, they’re bored with one another. Life is drab. So, they start to do more reckless and crazy things to stay engaged.
Seen Gerald’s Game?
I don’t want to go into an examination of what or what is not healthy exploration (that could be another blog) but we get desperate when it comes to maintaining interest. Maybe I should have looked my grave digger story in the eye and broken up when I considered going space opera. This wasn’t going to work. It was never going to work.
3.) When It Feels Like Work
I’m all for viewing your writing practice like work. I often think of what I do as more blue collar than white collar. Maybe it involves a talent, but that talent must be forged and maintained, or else lost.
What I mean is by work here is, when you dread the writing. I know pretty darn quick when I am dreading a project. I don’t have a commute (except for through the dining room, down the stairs and into my office) so my brain is in work/story mode almost immediate upon opening my eyes.
For a few mornings there, I was dreading my story. I would hang out to see what the before school TV routine would be. My fantasy football team got some extra scouting. I didn’t want to write it anymore.
If you feel like this, may be time to move on.
4.) When You Get That Manuscript Consultation And It Still Doesn’t Come Together
Here is where I put my “editor” hat on (note: figure of speech, I don’t own an editor hat).
One of my roles in a manuscript consultation is to give writers a fresh array of options. I offer new approaches to a story stuck on the brink of burial. A lot of the time (I would dare say almost every one) I can help a writer unlock their core story.
Sometimes though, rarely, the story stays obscured.
With my gravedigger story, I got an outside manuscript consultation (yes, even experienced an writers gets pro advice). My colleague took a look at all of it and gave me some ideas. None of them resonated though.
All creatives have a graveyard problem of their own, painters and sculptors and dancers. Death is a part of life.
Giving up on an idea that just doesn’t work, whether because it has gone too far afield from that original spark, or the fire just burned out, may be the best thing.
Maybe it’s a reset. Maybe out of the experience of putting one story down, the next story grows?
Please, feel free to leave any questions or comments you may have as a comment below. If you have any experience on this particular topic, I’m interested to hear it, so drop me a line.
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