I lost 30,000 words today. Almost.
I didn’t actually lose them. It was more like I beat them to death with a blunt hammer and then had to cut them away from my conscience.
It started out with a pretty great idea. Kids in an abandoned space junkyard trying to get to the stars. And it played along pretty nicely. I liked the setting. I liked the characters.
And then, around the 20,000 word mark, I realized the characters are whiny brats who won’t start acting and just keep on reacting as little as they can. The story called for outcasts with skills. And here we had high school juves with issues.
Now, outcasts works for high school juves, but issues don’t. Outcasts with issues that just boring. It’s Batman sitting on a roof edge contemplating his miserable life while Crime Happens. Elsewhere.
That doesn’t work in an adventure story.
Still, I’d written 20,000 words. I didn’t want to give up. I figured this is the middle doldrums. If I just push through, I’ll come out the other and and realize it’s all great. And I pushed, pushed, pushed, until I was completely worn down.
My amount of writing sprints per day sank from six, to three, to a single sprint of a mere ten minutes, in which I produce a couple of hundred words that were pretty damn boring. But hey, I’d written 25,000 words by now, I had to keep going. I just couldn’t give up. There’s gonna be something happening soon. Real soon. Like next minute. Or the next, or the next.
Nothing ever did.
The characters were locked into a very small-scale conflict. There were hints of a grand adventure, but at the pace I was writing, it would never come. It would be three books before the large-scale conflict ever showed it’s head, and three books of boredom will not make for a successful series.
I need To Do Something. I needed to remove those words.
Unfortunately, the characters were pretty much locked into their story. I couldn’t just edit out a few minor idiosyncrasies. I had to do a complete overhaul. And it’s a lot easier, at least for me, to overhaul by throwing everything out and starting over.
This of course, works sometimes, but far from every time. And I had already 30,000 words written. I couldn’t just leave them. I mean, 30,000 words is a month of work. It was more than a month of work, actually. Because at the end, I was writing next to nothing. I was wasting time and energy and accomplishing nothing. The story wasn’t moving in my mind.
I had to cut it away.
I had to face the fact that yes, I’d just spent a month-and-a-half on a story that didn’t go anywhere. That while I still like the premise, I would have to do something completely different with it some other day.
But I still didn’t want to cut those words. I didn’t want to abandon the story, even though it was taking up time that I could have spent writing other stories, stories that would actually excite me, and excite readers, and sell.
I wrote a few flash stories on the side trying to keep some kind of momentum going. But overall, it didn’t work very well, until I finally said “enough is enough, I’m cutting my losses.”
I managed to do it after consulting the Codex Writers Workshop, where the magnificent Marie Brennan said, and I quote:
“Adding more to that 30K is not going to magically transform it into something workable if the premise itself is flawed to begin with. You’ve written other books; you can feel the difference between ‘these are just normal doldrums and I should push through’ and ‘I’m barking up the wrong tree entirely.'”
Which is true. 30 k of boring will become 60 k of boring. So, I shut it down, I opened a new document. And, in just over half an hour, I wrote 1000 new words on a different story, something that I feel enthusiastic about
Sometimes you’ve got to pull the band-aid, even if it means losing 30,000 words. Because if you don’t, the wound beneath is going to fester and before you know it, you’ve cut out writing completely from your life.
For me, the trouble is knowing when to abandon that festering story. But that is a skill that I will hopefully pick up in the future.