01 March 2012

Trunking It

The fabulous Bluestocking has a post up today about her decision to trunk a story.

She writes,
This was a tough decision for me. I’m not one to give up easily. I do think any idea can be salvaged. But that still doesn’t mean something is publishable, or a least publishable in the way I want it to be. Or that the time spent fixing the story isn’t better spent on writing new ones.
The entirety of her post - which has amazing advice in it about why you might consider the trunk and how to know when it's time - had me cringing and nodding in sympathy. I just retired the first story of 2012, which was also one of the first stories I wrote a few years ago when I decided to take a serious stab at writing.

The first time I wrote it, it was a flash piece (based on a dream, I might add). It always bugged me that I couldn't place it. It bugged me even more that there was something about it that just didn't feel right.

This year, short on ideas for Write 1, Sub 1, I decided to take a stab at rewriting it, from scratch. This second effort was much longer. It had more developed characters. I introduced an amazing grandmother character. I cooked up a central romance that was sweet and endangered. The main villain got a fair shot at redemption. The tentacles were writhing. I sent it out a couple of places, but gee if I didn't still think - sorry, know - that there was something essentially wrong with the whole thing. Probably that same thing was wrong when it was a flash piece.

I'm not sorry I tried to rewrite it. It was a good lesson. I didn't have a clear idea of any changes I wanted to make to the original story. "More detail" was how I approached the rewrite, but I laid that detail out on the same skeleton as the original piece.

The bottom line for me is that I don't want to fool myself into sending something out when it's got my Spidey Sense tingling. If it doesn't feel right, I might not be able to put my finger on it, but I would rather put my efforts behind a piece I believe in. Other shorts I've written this year have come together in a much more felicitous fashion. I couldn't necessarily put my finger on why they work and this other piece doesn't. I don't think a writer always knows, either. There are plenty of pieces that I am not sure about that I send out anyway. Sometimes that works out, and the story becomes brilliant in my mind in retrospect. (Yes, because someone else liked it. I am sometimes shallow.)

It's just that when there is that feeling that something is missing or lacking, that there is something about a piece that gives me the hinks, I would rather put it aside.


Annie Neugebauer said...

Absolutely. Knowing when to “trunk” it, as you say, is based a lot more on instinct than anything else – for me at least. And there’s definitely a learning curve to following those instincts. I don’t think it’s shallow to let others’ opinions on your stuff guide your perspective on it. The moment I knew for absolute certain that I needed to trunk my first novel was during a public query reading where several agents gave their feedback to anonymous queries. And I realized that they said no to that one of mine not because of the query, but because of the project. It was an ah-ha moment, for sure, and it might have taken me a lot longer to get there if it weren’t for them. I do like to think that now I’m more honest with myself and better at trusting my intuition. But only time will tell, I suppose. Nice post!

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks, Annie! It isn't a good feeling, but it is good to learn to trust your own judgment.

Bluestocking said...

The spidey-sense as you put it is absolutely true -- if you can separate it from other feelings of unworthiness. It took me a while to see the difference between my fear of submitting and confidence (or not) in my work. But learning how to make that distinction came with time and experience.

And I agree that you didn't waste your time trying to rewrite your story -- it was a good experience, even if it didn't pan out. I felt the same way too tinkering with my story. But at some point the effort outweighs the benefit, and knowing when it's time to move on is also a skill that comes with experience.

Thanks for this post!

jaice john j said...

Its really awesome..
Pretty cool..

Regards from India,

Deborah Walker said...

Excellent advice. Yet . . . Yet . . .

Oh, I'm so rubbish on following good advice. My spidey-sense tingles on a lot of my stuff. I tend to leave it to editors to make the decision.

This post has got me thinking about a couple of stories I have trunked, including the first story I wrote in 2009. You know I still like it! Maybe.

I don't tend to tinker a lot, I agree with you on that point. For me it's better to crack on with writing something new.

Great post, Elizabeth and thanks to Bluestocking for raising the issue.

Traci Kenworth said...

Good advice. It's hard to know when to let go, but sometimes it has to be done. Here's to the next story being better.

Mark K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark K said...

Sorry, made a cock-up.

Tweaking seems to be my problem, and not knowing when to stop. Any answers?

Elizabeth Twist said...

I guess my litmus test is, would I be delighted to see the piece get accepted? A story is out there in the world representing you and what you can do for a reader. If that piece is the only thing they'll ever read of yours, would you be happy with that?

Most pieces I write, I feel like, hey, I like this, I did my best with it. If someone wants to publish it, GREAT!

This time, while I was waiting for a response, my predominant feeling was that if it were to be rejected, I would be okay with that - i.e., I would be pretty okay with not having it see the light of day. That's a bad sign.

RE: endless tweaking, I go in two layers. One is content: do the events, characters, descriptions, and whatnot represent the idea I want to get across? Sometimes changing a motive or a plot point or a character arc can make the story more purely itself, you know? That's the hard part of editing.

In terms of technique, I use Ken Rand's The 10% Solution. Run your story through the process outlined in that book, and it will be a lean clean machine.

I don't do much beyond that. In between submissions I might tweak content more because I've thought about it and I have some distance.

Usually I find it's best to move on to the next thing.

Unknown said...

I agree with Elizabeth, you just have to shrug the feelings of doubt off! What you think isn't a great piece may not be what another person thinks! We all tend to be hard on ourselves to be perfect, even in our writing, but the world is not perfect and very few people can honestly state that their work is 'perfect'!

Fantasy Writer Guy said...

Twister: Your blogging mission, should you choose to accept it:

Day 1: Wednesday March 7: Ten things you want to say to ten different people right now.

Day 2: Thursday March 8: Nine things about yourself that might surprise people who think they know you.

Day 3: Friday March 9: Eight people who mean a lot to you and why (in no particular order).

Day 4: Saturday March 10: List your "desert island" top 20 music albums, or whatever number works for you, preferably in order! Should anthologies qualify? You decide.

Day 5: Sunday March 11: You win five million in the lottery. How, specifically, do you spend (or save) each dollar?

Day 6: Monday March 12: Seven things that often cross your mind.

Day 7: Tuesday March 13: Six things you wish you’d never done.

Day 8: Wednesday March 14: Five ways to win your heart.

Day 9: Thursday March 15: Four turn-ons (interpret as you wish).

Day 10: Friday March 16: Three turn-offs.

Day 11: Saturday March 17: Build your dream home. Describe it room by room.

Day 12: Sunday March 18: Describe your ultimate perfect weekend from Friday night through Sunday.

Day 13: Monday March 19: Two images that describe your life right now and why.

Day 14: Tuesday March 20: One confession.

Elizabeth Twist said...

What is this diabolical challenge called, exactly? Only from the mind of FWG. I will most certainly participate, since the question list is so very tasty, damn it! *shakes fist*