16 January 2009

When To Let Die, A Spoonful Of Soup, and Think Sideways

First up, the soup. What am I talking about? A mini version of Link-a-bet Soup, of course! :D

So, I and a few writerly friends are getting ready to query. Where do you go to research agents? Lots of places - but QueryTracker is a great start, and they even have a blog.

Of course, if you're querying you're going to need to know How To Write A Great Query (whee, don't we love free downloads?!).

Secondly, the Think Sideways course. Hopefully by now you're all aware that I've been taking Holly Lisle's How To Think Sideways course, a writing course with a difference. I love it, I adore it, I want to marry it... *ponders the implications of marrying an online course* Er, okay, strike the last one O:) But anyway, I love it. I have a few reviews up - yes, I need to do more - but basically, let me assure you, it's pretty jolly awesome.

The course is open full time for enrolments, so you can enrol anytime you like. Don't forget that I offer a 20% rebate on any subscriptions made through my links (conditions apply).

HOWEVER. As of February 27th, the course will CLOSE to Charter Member enrolments. Which means that to get any of the cool bonuses that charter members (rah, go us guinea pigs who test-drive the course!), you'll have to pay extra.

If you've even been thinking about maybe taking this course, let me encourage you to do so before Feb 27 - I'll let you know what the bonuses are when I get the all, but I can assure you that they're going to be worth it.

And remember, you can drop the course at any time, no questions asked, and receive a pro rata refund for any month for which you've already paid. So sign up, already! :D

Right. On to the meat of the postiness.

It's a question that's been playing in my mind this week, what with my recent discussion about what I learned from the partial novels I wrote in '08: how do you determine when to keep on at something, and when to let it die?

I've come to a few conclusions, though they're not by any means all-inclusive.

First of all, I need to explain something. Yes, this comes back to my favouritest circle of topics: meaning, themes - and your legacy.

Legacy? I hear you ask. What on earth is our legacy, and why should we be concerned with it?

Well, you might not be. That's fine. But we all know that I'm striving for work that's meaningful in some way - I want to write something that Matters. So I'm concerned with it, because I want to leave an impression - I want my writing to have a legacy. Even if you don't have any particular desire to change the world, it's still important to consider the work you're writing as part of your eventual body of work. Not convinced? Think of this:

Any book you write, at any point in your career, for any reason, will be, at some point, the first book of yours that someone picks up.

Do you really want someone's first impression of you to be based on a book you hate but wrote for the money, or something that's nothing like any of the rest of your work, or, or, or...?

Don't give the reader another reason to switch off to you; they have enough already.

So, why do you ditch a book? Either 1) because it's not something you're capable of writing at this point in time, due either to lack of ability, or lack of distance from the subject matter, or 2) because it's not something you want as part of your legacy.

Reasons as to why you might not want something in your legacy include:

* It's just not a genre you see yourself being happy to write in long term. This covers books 2 and 3 in my original post, and to some extent book 5.
* The story itself is okay - but for whatever reason, you can't stand to write about the main character any more. It's okay to hate the main character - hate is a force of attraction, after all - but if you have no respect for your character, if nothing about them interests or engages you, it might be time to ditch the story. That's number 4 in my list of false starts.
* There are so many problems with the plot it's just not worth fixing - many first novels suffer from this, and remember, 'plot problems' can be all sorts of things: gaps of logic, plot bunnies, cliches, 'devices', etc. On their own, these things can be tackled; only you can decide where the boundary is between 'wrecked, but salvageable' and 'utter garbage; too much work to fix', and a lot of it will hinge on how much you love the story in other ways. Book #1 in my list comes here: it's a mess, but the underlying premise is fun, and one day I'll fix it.

But what about those borderline cases? What do you do when you can't quite decide if it's worth it or not (a la me with the whole concept of short stories right now)? And what if you want to work on something completely different just for the fun of it?

Of course it's okay to muck around with stuff that you don't actually intend to be part of your 'legacy': writing different styles and genres pushes out the boundaries of our ability, and helps us to learn and grow. But bear in mind that there's a fine line between playing around for fun to increase your ability, and wasting time on things you never intend to be serious about.

Personally, I think that if you don't intend to get involved in the style you're experiementing with (or genre, or voice, or whatever) in a big way, then you should at least be keeping an eye on what you're learning from the experience. The question is, are you a) going to learn stuff that b) no other story could teach you and c) will be applicable to the stuff you actually intend to make a career out of?

If you're not going to learn anything from it, or if what you learn could be learned by doing something more directly related to your career, or if what you're learning isn't going to be applicable to anything else.... Well, we're all allowed to do things just for the hell of it. Just realise that if what you're doing doesn't fit any of those criteria (which are, let's face it, pretty broad), you're probably not doing something which can be classed as 'work', in terms of writing ;)

And that, dear readers, is my random thought of the day. I'll be away all next week, so you'll get automated posts, bwa ha %-) But watch out the week after where I'll be back to completely contradict myself and discuss the importance of having 'just for fun' projects :D

For now - have you ever thought about your 'legacy', and the fact that every book you write will be someone's first glimpse at you as a writer? Does this matter? Does it or should it influence how you decide which projects to let die? Why have you let projects die?


Lady Glamis said...

Oh, great post, Inky!!!

Okay, first of all, I have not let any novel projects die yet. In fact, The Breakaway went into hibernation for 12 years before I resurrected it. It was obviously worth keeping. :)

And Monarch... well, it's worth keeping, I think.

As far as abandoning projects, I think your reasons are good. I will keep them in mind as I pick new projects. But you have to remember that I don't work on too many things at once, and what I do work on, I choose extra carefully before I begin.

As for the Sideways course... well, either I can spend some extra money on that or going out to see Sarah. I think Sarah might win this one.

Merc said...

Awesome post, Inky! I will actually respond in more detail in a post of my own so as not to hijack your comment section. ;)

Abandoning projects? Well, I've tossed at least three or four ancient novels. Maybe more. None of them were finished, so I don't care. :P

My reasons were 1.) they were atrocious. I mean, you want BAD, look at me drafts hidden on the HD. (You won't see them. I've hidden them. Bwha ha!)

2.) they sucked in every day and the stories were ultimately not ones I wanted to work with.

(Yes, some day I will attempt a novel about Spartacus. But using anthro characters might not be part of it.)

I've put projects on hiatus without abandoning them. My "baby" RIVEN for example. I wrote a draft, and then set it aside for almost two years, becuase I didn't believe I had the skills or ability to do it justice yet. I've restarted it now, and feel more confident about it.

A lot of my half-finished novels I usually intend to finish and do something with, or at least everything after 2004. They might not worth pursing but I learn something from them and I don't know if they're worth keeping or not until I finish.

Short stories, I'm a bit more ambiguous with. I've scrapped a lot of them, finished or not, and have less concern about whether they're worth keeping or not. :P

Since you mentioned legacy, I've been thinking about it more. Yes, I think it's important to consider this--but since I have an, ah, eclectic writing portfolio %-) and I'm aware some of what I write will not appeal to everyone.

Someone who reads one of my horror shorts might not like the fantasy or SF, and vise versa, you know? So I think I'm less concerned about which genre readers first read from me, and am thinking more on the actual story.

I'm not sure this influences me on what projects to let die or not. I base that more on whether I like it, whether it works, and if I can tolerate it past the shiny idea stage. ;)

I shall ponder it more, and try a post with more thoughts. Poke me if I forget. :P

Thanks for sharing, Inky!


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