3 reasons to abandon a writing project

Late last year I shared a list of story ideas I decided not to use. It wasn’t that they were bad (okay, some of them were) but that they just didn’t work for me. Either they didn’t fit my preferred writing niches, or they didn’t give me enough to work with for the creation of actual books.

There are a lot of ideas I keep in reserve, but I try not to talk about them until they become a solid part of my writing plan. A lot goes on behind the scenes that I never talk about, but since one of those ideas has recently slipped from the idea folder to the trash can, I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about this quiet part of my writing process, where only my husband and a few close friends get to see me bouncing around raw ideas.

Two and a half years ago, I worked on developing an idea for a sort of sci-fi YA novel. It revolved around a girl who was determined to escape the city she’d been assigned to, wanting to find a better life with the other half of her family. The cities rested on an alien planet filled with monstrous creatures. There were two problems: getting past the alien life to make the trek to her father’s home city, and getting out of her city at all. The cities were protected from the alien life by a device called the Adrammelech, named for the ancient Earth Mesopotamian deity. The Adrammelech was powered by the sun, a massive arm of fiery energy that swept around the city’s protective barrier and burned everything in its path to cinders, be it friend or foe. Her chance for escape arrives when an unexpected celestial event causes the Adrammelech to shut down, leaving the city defenseless. It’s the only time she may ever make it past the Adrammelech’s arm, but leaving means abandoning her younger siblings when her survival skills are all that can save them from the encroaching threat of the wildlife.

adrammelechIt was enough of an idea to create a book from and I was excited to add it to my roster of titles to write. I created a preliminary cover for it–something I do for almost all my books, so I can visually sort the project folders–and stockpiled ideas for when I’d eventually get around to writing it. But instead of writing it, eventually I decided the project was a no-go, and I moved my existing work on the idea to the no-man’s land of my Abandoned Projects folder. Here are the biggest reasons why.

1. It’s outside my comfort zone.

There’s nothing wrong with pushing boundaries, and you can learn a lot from doing it. But when I’m so early in my writing career, pushing boundaries and expanding into new genres isn’t going to help, especially when it’s one I won’t visit often, if ever again. Writers shouldn’t pigeonhole themselves into just one category of writing, of course, but building my early catalogue should be in something I’m both familiar with and in love with. Branching out into other ideas can happen later, which means there’s no point in keeping this one around now.

2. The stakes are too small.

This is a big problem for this particular book. The heroine might not make it out of the city because her family needs her. Ultimately this is such a small issue that when I read back over my story notes, I stop and think “so what?” Not all stories need to be big stories, but they need to have enough impact to resonate with readers. If it’s not resonating with me, something is wrong. Sometimes issues like this can be fixed, but when coupled with the problem of this one not fitting within my preferred genres or the direction I ultimately want my writing to go, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of point in trying to beef the plot up enough to give it real impact.

3. Sometimes you just lose interest.

The years that pass between having an idea and having the time to write it are the best thing to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s pretty normal for writers to jump into a half-baked idea with both feet, only to find it too superficial to complete. If an idea is worth executing, it will stick around for the long haul, drawing you back in over the course of years and years. This is why Emberheart, one of my current WIP stories, is still on the table and scheduled to be tackled next after more than a decade. An idea’s lasting power is almost as important as the willpower to muscle through to a project’s end.

What are some reasons you’d put aside a project, writing or otherwise?

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