Sunday, October 20, 2013

on semi-abandoned projects

Every writer I know has a project that's been "sort of" abandoned. One that lingers in the secret closets of a hard drive, perennially discovered, ripe for dragging into the virtual recycle bin, only to be granted a last minute stay of execution in hopes that it'll reform itself, and worm its way back into the writer's favor.

I've been wrestling with such a project for two decades. Not years. Decades.

As I linger in the publication green room, queuing up book launch ideas faster than I can rip through a bag of semisweet chocolate chips, I've once again unearthed my drawer novel. (Or in my case, my Rubbermaid bin novel). To be fair, the novel does have a pretty little arc. Compelling (in my opinion) characters. It has some successful scenes and every time I venture back to it, I find myself lost in the poetry of a few of the sentences.

That said, there's a secret sauce that's just not there yet with this project. Something is missing aesthetically. It still feels like parts instead of the-sum-of-its-parts. I know, I know, that's what revision is for. Finishing touches. Grace and beauty. Turning a mess into art.

The red flag here is the length of time I've been fucking around with this thing. My writing style has shifted. My interests are different. What I wanted to say in the mid-nineties, I don't care as much about. And yet there's still this lure with this thing. The web of it trapping me for hours at a time.

What was the last thing you held onto longer than you should have? And what happened?


  1. I think loving individual sentences within a piece ("lost in the poetry of a few of the sentences" as you say) is a detriment with my own work; I'm trying a new way of rewriting where I move large pieces around before allowing myself to fawn over the snappy language. This pains me. How do we know we've hung on to something too long until it it's too late? I hang onto everything, even the pretty turns of phrases who had to go because they weren't serving the effectiveness of the work; I just relocate them to a folder that's edited passages heaven, or maybe purgatory. This also pains me.
    Have you thought about scrapping the original draft of this 90's work--a la Jon Gingrich--and starting the piece all over again? Talk about terrifying.

    1. Oh Drea, thank you for this smart, laser-focus response. The pretty language trap has fucked me over at least as much as it's brought me clarity. It's wise to take it to task. Very wise.

      Keeping a fragments folder sounds like a terrific idea. In my clumsy process, I would probably name it something utterly hopeless and generic. Like "scraps." And never find it again.

      And, yes, I actually did dump first, second and third drafts of this mother fucker. And rekeyed the current draft, chopping and refining as I went. I have memorized this book is the problem, and it's deeply hoarded in my psyche -- all the versions collapsed into a giant freak version.

      It's that boyfriend you still drunk dial. That pair of shoes you should have tossed, but can't.

      I am giving it until the end of the year, then sending it back to the commerce team. If they say it still needs work, I'm going to burn it. With ceremony and grace.

  2. this topic hits my core wtf am i doing writer nerve. i have FOUR of these, the first i started more than two decades ago, and each making it further along the road to completion than the one before. i have a theory (and by theory, i mean my rationalization for not sticking with any of these drafts...) that they are each my way of teaching myself how to write.

    i'm apparently a really, really slow learner who needs a lot of practice.

    1. Good point! (The teaching yourself to write, I mean.) Is there one of the four that calls out to you louder than the others?

    2. absolutely. there's one that i love everything about...the opening scene (which would probably get cut should it ever make it to a final draft, but ahhh, i love it. and the title. shit...answering this question makes me think i need to pull it back out again). the problem was the plot was too complex for me when i started it. there was a lot of jumping back and forth from present day to past and i couldn't pull it off as a novice. maybe, when i have more confidence, i can revisit it. shake it out. (& move the opening scene to the middle so it's less likely to get cut)

      i can even remember the moment the story came to me more than five years ago. i was in las vegas for a work trip and walking at night when i stopped in front of that gargantuan belagio fountain and there were all these groups of men stumbling around.

    3. Structure. Fucking structure. By far the hardest thing to work out in a novel. The Belagio scene is intriguing! The stories behind drunken meanderings...

  3. Anonymous6:20 AM

    I don't hold onto stuff. I'm a slash-and-burn writer, and I mean that literally, as in pages=kindling. If it doesn't work, fuck it. There's always something else to write.

    This only applies to my stuff, by the way. Don't you dare.


    1. I'm thinking a New Year's Eve bonfire. Seriously! If not tossing the whole thing on the blaze, then at least some of the drafts. I could keep my family warm for a month.

  4. I only have a few half-started and then semi-forgotten pieces. But, I do have three completed novels that were never published. All have some degree of potential.

    The first may have been the best premise, but it was my first, so it also contains the worst writing. The second actually captured an agent, but she left the business while she was subbing it. I'd done so many rewrites at her suggestions, I'm not sure where I would begin in resurrecting it. I was certain the most recent was marketable, but alas, I gave up after a lengthy list of rejections.

    I've moved on, for now at least, to nonfiction. Change is good, yes?

    But I haven't gotten rid of any of it. Don't you, either!!


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