When to abandon a story

In my last post I talked about working on the first-draft manuscripts of ten stories – how some were close to ready, others needed a lot of work and one had been “abandoned entirely”; the ideas were worth revisiting but the manuscript itself wasn’t . I’m keen to write a story for the Southern Horror Writer’s Club, since I’m, technically, from the south, so I really want this story set in New Zealand’s South Island to work. I tried a rewrite from scratch last week – similar ideas, but kept two of the characters together so their conversation can do some of the explaining (“telling”) about the situation. It was much more pacey, action oriented and flat out – the new draft opened like this “Connor pushed the stolen Range Rover up over 160, barely slowing for the corners” (that’s 160 kph, which is about 100 mph, I think). (The original draft had been much more introspective and gazey – “Jeff stepped back off the jetty, cradling his twisted wrist” and so on). The rewrite didn’t work – too much pace, not enough character … I just couldn’t get a feel for it. But I still want to submit to the club, the deadline is approaching. So I sat down with the characters (I like Jeff and Connor and Sandra, naive as they are) and put them in a new scenario. I’ve been writing that story for a couple of days and I’m about 1500 words into it and this one doesn’t work. So the three manuscripts are going in a drawer for probably six months and then I might see what may be salvageable from them – who knows, that stolen Range Rover might make a reappearance sometime.

Meanwhile, still wanting to make that deadline, I’m starting a new story – “Doubtful Sound”, with different characters and a way different scenario. We’ll see how that goes.

Writing retreat – a new approach


I’ve been back for about ten days now from my nine-day retreat to the Foxton Beach writing house and I’m still working through what I achieved. I went with a very different approach to other times I’ve been on retreat. Usually what I do is have a specific project to write and I’m starting on a first draft – whether that be an adult novel, a young adult novel, a long short story or what-have-you. I go in with just ideas, perhaps an outline, and start writing.

This time I took a bunch of first draft manuscripts with me. I had ten stories. About half were flash-fiction (under 1000 words), the others longer (though nothing over 3500 words). These were rough manuscripts that varied in quality from fairly complete and structurally sound, to wobbly attempts where I’d just been keeping up the momentum of writing. Often I just have one or two manuscripts underway at once – often I’m too impatient to put things aside for a longer period (which any 101 writing book/course/etc. will tell you is what is important: put it aside for a week or a month and come back with fresh eyes).

Here’s the upshot.

  1. One of the stories has been abandoned entirely – I will use the idea and scenario for a full rewrite, but the pacing, tone and resolution were all too far out of whack to be able to mould or revise the existing story into any semblance of sense.
  2. Three of the stories need to sit for a while longer.  In part because I need to do some more research on boxing, on free-diving, on deep sea pressures, but also because there are some other issues that I will need to take some time with.  Overall, though, they are structurally fairly good, the characters and situations work and I’m pretty happy.
  3. Three more of the stories are pretty close to ready.  The structure is good, the pace about what I’m looking for.  What they need now is polishing to make the writing flow.
  4. The last three are done.  They were close to what I wanted from the beginning.  I spent the time at the retreat working on their endings and some polishing.  In the time since I’ve come back, I have done that final polishing and have submitted these three to various publishers.  One has already been accepted, yay (for Lame Goat Press’s Flash! anthology of flash fiction).

That’s it. I’m stoked about how productive the retreat was – using the space to do editing and reflecting was, I think, a more productive use of my time than had I gone in with a blank page (not to say that blank page is bad, just that this approach worked for me this time).

So now my task is to keep tinkering with those last six plus one stories.  I have drafted one new story in the meantime, and begun work on a from-scratch rewrite of the dud story from point 1 above.  Of course there is still the question of the novel.  My Galley proof arrived yesterday, so I will be working through that to make sure it’s working for me before I do the final submission to the publisher.

On hiatus – back in ten days

Yay, I’m off for my writing retreat (I guess a little like Jodi’s cave) for a week. I have a stack of first-draft manuscripts to work through. Some of them feel close to what I was thinking so might just take some editing, others are pretty loose and bedraggled and will quite possibly need full re-writes from scratch. I’ll also be looking at the pesky last chapter of the novel and try to knock that into shape. I will also be doing some story outlines for stories I’ll think about developing in coming months. It’ll be a busy year. Mood: excited.