One of the hardest things for a writer is knowing when it’s time to let a story go. You’ve just spent the past several days or even weeks working on a story, churning out a flow of words as you craft your tale. But something isn’t working. The words are forced and awkward. You’re not excited about the story. In fact, you dread sitting down to the computer every day. These are usually indications that it’s not working and it’s time to start with a fresh page.
Now, don’t confuse a hard story to write with one that needs to be let go. Hard stories are the best to write, as they challenge you, force you to stretch your skills. Despite being hard, the words hitting the page still feel good and you’re still excited to sit down at the computer even though you spent most of your time glaring at the screen.
I’ve actually been hit with a story recently that needs to be pitched in the wastebasket. This rarely happens to me and I am still in a bit of shock that this story isn’t going to work. I’ve recently been working on a Halloween-themed short story for Gage and the gang from The Asylum Tales. I decided it was going to be about a Halloween party that goes disastrously wrong.
In four days, I’ve written just over 3,000 words and it’s been like pulling teeth the entire time. At first, I thought it was because I was feeling restrained by the small word count that I was aiming for. Then, I thought it was because I didn’t have the story outlined. I outlined the last of the story yesterday and the discomfort didn’t fade like I had hoped. Last night, as I was lying in bed, I thought that I should throw out the story and start over. At that exact moment, an enormous weight lifted off my chest and I knew it was the right decision.
It may be the right decision, but that doesn’t make it an easy decision. Looking at the outline, I have to admit that the story is still interesting to me, but I’m not excited about it. And if I’m not excited about it, you’re not going to be excited when you read it. The writer’s emotions do bleed through the words to the reader.
So, the white board is being wiped clean today and I’m opening a fresh document to start a brand new story. The short story is supposed to be between 10,000 – 15,000 words – very short for me. I can get it written in 2-4 days, so I have plenty of time before my deadline to play around. It’s a little sad that my first attempt isn’t going to work out, but I’m saving what I’ve written and all my notes. You never know. Something might occur to me down the road and I’ll finally figure out how to make the original story work, but I’m not waiting around for that spark of inspiration or intuition. I’ve got work to do.