5: On Older Ideas

Five more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

I’ve trunked a lot of my ideas over the years.  It’s no big surprise…it’s par for the course for pretty much every writer.  I still think about them every now and again, maybe even wondering if they could ever be revived now that I’m a better writer (albeit jokingly — I don’t plan on doing this IRL at all).  Depending on when I started them, I pretty much have them collecting dust on a bookshelf or getting forgotten in some folder on my external drive.

When I think of trunked ideas, I think of one of the plot points in Jack London’s Martin Eden, one of the few books assigned to me in school that I truly enjoyed.  He’s a writer who can’t seem to get an even break, but once he does, it snowballs to the point where he’s digging out his older work, revising it, and his readers keep eating it up.  Thing is, he’s not doing all this for himself; he’s trying to impress a girl.  Interestingly, London pulls this idea off by not blaming her disinterest for his downfall, but by having Martin realize he alone is at fault, thinking ‘wow…I really wasted a lot of my life trying to impress everyone and making myself miserable.’

I don’t think I’ve wasted my years with all those failed writing projects.  I knew well enough to give up on them when the time came.  I realized the most common sign is when the writing feels more like a chore than a project.  [Not to be confused with that feeling of failure we writers often get during the revision process — you know, the oh god this sucks why am I still working on it phase.  Truth: I’m going through this with In My Blue World as we speak.  And yet I still have faith in it, and will see it through to its conclusion.]

Sometimes the ideas are little more than moods or images; they won’t or can’t be expanded into novels, or even short stories.  Sometimes the story is a little too uncomfortable to write.  Sometimes I get through the main planning stage, or even the first draft, and realize how much of an unsavable mess it is.  Regardless of what level I get to it, I’ll have to make a decision: keep moving along with it, or file it away and try something else.

I did a lot of this in 2018.  While I released Meet the Lidwells and started work on In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex stories, I had so many other project ideas kicking around that I realized I no longer had any interest in.  I decided it was probably time for me to trunk nearly everything else that was still up in the air; I just did not feel connected to them anymore.  I’d still feel a “hey this might be fun” wave of interest, but that’s all.  And I can’t base an entire project on that.

I think part of it was also completing the Apartment Complex story.  That novel is…different.  Very different from a lot of what I’ve written in the past.  Even the current past.  It resonated with me in a way that none of my previous novels ever did, even the trilogy.  It felt like a gigantic step forward, and a step away from the work I’ve done in the past.  It felt that this was the direction I needed to go in next, and almost none of my backburner projects fit that mold.

In short, I felt I was closing down one part of my life and writing career, and moving on to a newer, better one.  I had to leave the old stories behind.

I’m looking forward to 2019 being part of that newer, better life and career.  And I’m definitely looking forward to the newer stories, whatever they may be.

Back Burner Projects vs Trunked Novels

shikamaru sigh
What a drag.

As mentioned on Wednesday, the Apartment Complex project (and by extension, the College Campus story, as they’re both in the same universe) have been put on the back burner.  Not trunked, just put aside for now.  I’ll get back to them sooner or later.

So, what’s the difference between trunking a project and putting it on hiatus?  Well, for me, anyway, trunking is when I’ve all but made my peace with it and given up.  It can be for any reason, really: loss of interest, failure to find any kind of strong plot, or growing dissatisfaction with the project overall.  I’m okay with those outtakes doing little more than just taking up space on the bookshelf next to my desk.  Every now and again I’ll think about them, but I won’t do any more writing on it.

But what about putting projects on the back burner?  There’s many reasons for that as well.  I don’t want to give up on them, not just yet.  They still show promise, they just need a hell of a lot more work than I’ve given them.  More often than not I put them on hiatus because I’m stuck.  I did this with The Balance of Light, and I’ve done it with a few other projects as well.  I need to distance myself from the project for a bit so I can get a clearer head.  Maybe I’m diving far too deep into the project and I’ve lost direction.

Or worse, maybe it’s that I’ve got some really cool ideas for it, with a lot of nothing in between.  That’s the main problem with the AC project.

How does one make this decision, whether to put it aside or to put it away?

I suppose it’s different for every writer.  Personally, if every moment feels more like a chore and I’ve lost all excitement about it, chances are I should trunk it.  I’ve trunked stories that at one time I really wanted to write, but the spark just isn’t there anymore.

On the other hand, if every moment feels like a chore but I still think the idea is worth working on, I’ll put it aside.  I’ve found over the years that these projects fall into one of two columns: either A) I just don’t have the emotional and/or intellectual energy to dedicate to it, or B) The story is far from coherent in my head.  The Balance of Light was in column A, while AC is in column B.

If I’m at either point, it’s best for me to back away and get my shit together.

Either way, it’s moved to the ‘Backburner’ subfolder on my PC.  I’ll get back to it soon enough.  Sometimes it’ll take a few months, sometimes it’ll take years.

But I’ll get back to them.

 

shikamaru temari
When A. stops by and slaps some sense into me.

Trunked!

trunks
No, I mean trunking a — you know what, never mind.

Trunking a project is always a weird feeling.  You’ve been hoping beyond hope that you could keep this project alive, even as it’s going down in flames.  He’s dead, Jim.  The heart stopped beating some time ago, and there’s no way to revive it.  Time to file away the document, close the notebook covers, and file them away under At Least I Tried (or alternately for me, Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time).  Time to move on.

I’ve trunked a number of story ideas over the years.  My first couple of novels, my screenplays, and nearly all the story ideas that never evolved past their initial first couple of days of workshopping.  The digital versions are all filed away in a nondescipt ‘etc writing’ folder, and all the printouts are gathering dust on one of my bookshelves.

I don’t think I’ve ever trunked a format before, however.

This past Thursday, I decided I was going to make it official and stop writing poetry.  At least until further notice.  [The fact that I chose to do so on National Poetry Day was a complete fluke, by the way.  I didn’t know about it until after I’d made the decision.]  For a bit of closure, yesterday afternoon I wrote a eulogy poem called “30”, and once I was done, I filed that composition notebook away with all the others.

So why did I chose to take this step?  Well, partly because over the last five or six years, it started feeling more like a chore and an exercise and less like something I used to enjoy.  See, when I started writing poetry semi-seriously, I was a senior in high school.  That’s back in 1988, folks.  It was primarily a mental and emotional escape for me, and over the years it never really changed.

I think it says something really positive that I no longer need that outlet.

The downside is that any poetry I have written over the past, say, seven or eight years, has felt forced and lifeless.  Like I was doing it for homework rather than for any personal or professional reason.  There were moments where it was fun, like when I was writing it for my now-closed Dreamwidth account, but I really was beginning to lose interest in it.

So why did it take me so long to make this decision?

Well, a few things, really.  Like I said, I’d been writing poetry since 1988.  Since before then, really.  My first attempts were actually back in 5th grade, which would be seven years earlier in 1981.  I’d dabbled with song lyrics and other things since then, but 1988 is when I first started focusing on it as a valid creative and emotional outlet, using one of those Mead composition books with the mottled black and white cardboard cover (you know the ones I’m talking about).  I have about twenty of them now, some filled to the ending pages and some with only a small fraction of pages used.  So making the decision to put that part of my life away after twenty-eight years was no easy decision.  It had become a close confidant.

But the main reason?  Simply put: I couldn’t think of anything to write about in that format anymore.  I had no need for it.  My writing projects and processes have changed significantly over the years — especially over the last five or so years — that I had little to no time to focus on it.  It felt a bit frivolous.  Poetry was no longer my avenue for self-guided therapy…that’s now hiding in my personal journals, offline and well away from everything else going on.  I had nothing to write about anymore in poetry form.

Does that mean I’ll never write another poem again?  Hardly.  I’m sure I’ll scribble a stanza or two in my journal.  And I’m quite sure I still have a few song lyrics in me that have yet to surface.  This only means that I’m not going to force myself to write something that no longer works as a viable format for me anymore.

It’s time for me to move on, to continue to evolve as a writer.

I Won’t Share You

The decision to pull out of a writing project is a strange one.  It’s never a knee-jerk reaction.  More often than not, it’s a laborious, emotional, drawn out process.  All kinds of questions arise, whether it’s worth soldiering on or cutting losses.  The feeling of frustration and irritation due to wasted time.  And even the relief (and the guilt of feeling such, despite the decision) when the deadline is no longer hanging over the writer.

I say this now, as I seem to be on the fence on a current long-term project at this time (don’t worry, it’s not Mendaihu Universe related).  I won’t go into detail just yet, as I’m still debating on what move I’ll take, but suffice it to say, the end result is different than what I’d expected it to be.  It’s starting to feel less like a publishable book and more of a private ‘vanity’ book…something that would appeal to me, but probably not to too many others.  Will I finish it?  I most likely will, given that I’m close to the end of the initial rough draft anyway.  I just may not self-publish it.

It’s a tough decision, and one I’m not taking lightly.  It’s not exactly frustrating that it may take this direction…just that it feels weird, signing off something that had potential at one point.

So, fellow writers….ever have this quandry?