I was looking through some notebooks and folders on my laptop this weekend, and it got me thinking about ideas and unfinished projects. I’m preparing to flesh out some new book ideas to pitch to my agent. (I’m waiting for feedback on another draft, and I hate having no “current” writing project on the go.) There were so many scraps of ideas that either didn’t get written, or that I started writing only to stall halfway through.
I used to think if I had to abandon a story at 30k words because it wasn’t working, I’d let myself down (and wasted my time). I used to think that every idea could be fleshed out into a complete manuscript that worked. But I’ve learned that that’s not the case.
Leaving a manuscript unfinished if you’re really struggling with it isn’t something to feel bad about. Sometimes, you just need a break. Other times, no matter how hard you try, you can’t make an idea work on the page. And that’s okay.
I have so many half-written manuscripts on my laptop. I stopped writing some of them because I wasn’t having fun with the idea enough to power through. Some trailed off because I had no idea what the plot was and I was just rambling. Others were too “big” for me – you can have an idea that’s bigger and more complex than you can handle, and maybe you don’t feel ready for it yet and need more writing experience.
Of course, it’s still important to finish things, because if we don’t, we’ll never learn to see a project through to the end. But for every finished project, it’s okay to have two or three you didn’t complete.
Usually, you can use something from your unfinished manuscript in a future project: a character, a world-building element, a plotline. It’s never wasted time. You can pull it apart or merge it with another idea later. And it’s all good writing practice!
Sometimes when we’re writing to get published, all the best intentions we have for an idea aren’t enough. A new experience for me over the past year has been “pitching” ideas to my agent and having her tell me which one is the most viable in the current market. An idea might not be worth spending more time on (or writing at all) because:
- It’s overdone and doesn’t have a fresh twist. Think vampires and werewolves – without something to make them stand out.
- The age category you want to write for is struggling (YA being an oversaturated market, for example).
- It’s too niche.
- It’s not original enough.
Some of these things contradict each other: don’t do things that are overdone and make sure you’re being original, but don’t be too original or you won’t have an audience. That’s one of the more frustrating sides of publishing. But it’s sadly something you have to get used to, and why it’s best not to pin all your hopes on one concept or project.
On a more personal level, sometimes you have an idea, write it down, and then come back to it months later and think, “Did I really think that was a good idea?” So it’s worth letting an idea sit for a while before you start fleshing it out. Maybe you won’t feel as enthusiastic about it later, but if the excitement is still there, you know it’s worth exploring.
How many unfinished projects do you have sitting on your computer? Are there any ideas you decided not to tackle? I’d love to hear about them!
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