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Let's discuss our writing abortions... (1 Viewer)

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luckyscars

WF Veterans
Was skimming through my document files for the past four years (as far back as I have) and realized I have give or take about 120 saved unfinished stories which I 'properly' started (wrote at least 1,000 words of, in many cases much more) only to abort at some point along the way, for various reasons.

Mostly it is short stories, but I also have four novels that I wrote 30,000+ words of before falling out of love with them and moving on.

To put it in perspective, I probably have about 35 completed stories, which includes five completed novels and 20 or so published shorts. So, overall, for every story I complete I guess I average about two I didn't. Then I have around 10 completed short stories I completed but never found a home for, which is (to me) a different type of failure.

I'm not sure if there is any kind of common rate-of-failure for successful writers, but I thought it was kind of interesting just seeing all these unloved creatures...

One bright side is I used to abandon stuff WAY more than I do now. However, abandoning a project now feels a lot more like failure. When I started writing I never really expected to finish anything so it was all kind of a jolly. Now, if I allow myself to kill a project, it's only because I am sure it's not working and I give myself a hard time over it. Because finishing is important.

Anyway, how about you? Approximately how many incomplete stories have you got laying around gathering dust on your computer, and how does that line up compared to what you have got to the finish line on? Why did you end up abandoning? Are there any you are intending on going back to someday?
 
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bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I've gone one "finished" manuscript of about 150K that needs another lookover, and a followup to that which is pretty close to 100K words. I have two separate SFF novels which I am about 20K words into, one of which is my main WIP at the moment. That's it for long form. Short? There's a lot of crap there. All my LM entries, and those for other competitions. Bits of this and that that I started. Some short stories from way back that are surprisingly uncringy (or maybe I've just become inured) if a little lacking in plot. Funny, I've only been writing for about 6 years. It feels a hell of a lot longer.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
I have three unfinished WIPs on my laptop as of now, but they likely won't be resumed anytime soon. I lost the idea for one, didn't like the direction of the second, and am not sure how to make the third one work the way I want it to. Whenever I have a WIP that doesn't work out, it goes in a special folder marked 'X-UNFINISHED' which is visible enough for me to open it from time to time in hopes of restarting them.

I'm actually surprised I don't have any more than three, but I have found that if I leave something unfinished long enough, I'll eventually find a spark that leads me back to it so that I can continue.

-JJB
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I have hundreds of pieces waiting for me to do something with them-- I'd guess at least 100 poems, 50 stories, 40 essays, and two novels-- all unfinished. I seldom abandon a piece altogether. I figure over the years (as a piece sits waiting) I will have read more and more, will have written more and more, and will have more ideas stored in my head and can sometimes make an old piece finally come to life a few years after first writing it. (Sometimes, in the case of my poems, I combine poems, and sometimes I'll turn a poem into haibun or into prose poems--and vice versa.)

I'm definitely a failed writer of haiku. I just can't seem to write good haiku (only a handful out of my hundreds please me and those few have been published, so now I'm down to none that are market-ready out of the hundreds waiting in storage). But even those hundreds of failed haiku I've written over the years I still keep because they serve as my large store of images.

I like old work too because sometimes I get a chuckle out of it, and can see that I've made progress in overall improvement of my writing abilities.

I also stay busy writing new material and stay busy marketing the work I think is publishable. This last year has been my best yet for the number of things I got published (essays, poems, prose poems, haibun). I'm sure my method could stand some improving but for now it works great for me.

Some urge us to "kill our darlings" but I prefer seeing if my little "changelings" can turn into something worthwhile later on.
 

Fiender

Senior Member
I have a half-dozen or so little writing excursions that ended up going nowhere. First chapters (or first pages) of stories that I never really bothered following up on. Similarly, I have a single project that I was planning on being novel length that I just... never completed. I stopped working on it around the 30k word mark back in 2011 and never went back.

I have a couple 'completed' novels that I revised and got beta readers for, but which I ultimately never felt comfortable enough to query due to lack of confidence. Looking at them now, years later and with several more projects under my belt, I don't believe I will ever go back to these, so I'm tentatively labeling these as 'abortions', too.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
I have two projects that I abandoned.

The first was my first attempt at writing a novel. It didn't go so well. I had no idea what I was doing and got stuck after about 10 pages. It's somewhere on my harddrive.

The second was going to be part3 of a series. The two that proceeded it was focused, and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. The third was started just to wrap up the storyline in a neat bow. Needless to say, it was far from neat. I had little idea what I actually wanted to say and so it summarily died at the 1/3 mark. I like what I did in it, but I didn't have direction. I'll probably finish it when I figure out what it is I'm trying to communicate in the story as the ideas are solid, but focus was never there.

I have to know what I want to say in an idea before I can write it. If I don't have something clear, like a theme, I fall flat. If I know what I want, I always push through.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I have two projects that I abandoned.

The first was my first attempt at writing a novel. It didn't go so well. I had no idea what I was doing and got stuck after about 10 pages. It's somewhere on my harddrive.

The second was going to be part3 of a series. The two that proceeded it was focused, and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. The third was started just to wrap up the storyline in a neat bow. Needless to say, it was far from neat. I had little idea what I actually wanted to say and so it summarily died at the 1/3 mark. I like what I did in it, but I didn't have direction. I'll probably finish it when I figure out what it is I'm trying to communicate in the story as the ideas are solid, but focus was never there.

I have to know what I want to say in an idea before I can write it. If I don't have something clear, like a theme, I fall flat. If I know what I want, I always push through.

I got there on my first novel, twelve chapters in. It sat there forever. I finally changed the end of Chapter 12 and tightly plotted the rest. After that I finished it in several weeks, even though much of that outline either changed or was chopped out entirely.

Before I finished that novel, I had it and two other works with three chapters written. Why three chapters? Because I started both of the others on vacation and evidently three chapters is what I can get done in a one week vacation at the beach. :)

After I buckled down and finished the first novel, I started a sequel to it and wrote ... three chapters. I suppose you can give me any subject and I can give you the first three chapters. LOL In my own defense, after the first three chapters I was distracted by business and updating our home of 27 years to get it on the market and get it sold. It was a major undertaking.

Summer 2019 I took some interactive fiction I wrote in my first business and turned it into three books, writing 20k-30k words to cap each one off.

Then at the end of last year and first of this year I finished the sequel. In May I wrote a SF novel.

My current WIP will complete one of the "vacation three chapters", which I wrote in 2010. I did a lot of research this summer, my first major research for any fiction I write, and broke into chapter four this fall. I started Chapter 11 yesterday and should finish the novel by or before February.

Then I'll take up the last three chapter orphan, which is a fairy tale that should only run 40-50K words. Should be a quickie.

I didn't "abandon" any of these projects because I was dissatisfied with them. There were two reasons. One, I have a business and a life and this was a hobby. Second, I had not learned how to bear down and finish. With the novel I completed early this year, I learned how to bear down and finish, and that requires me to take the trouble to "work out what should come next". As long as I know "what comes next", I can pour words into it. So that process of thinking and getting to the rest of the story is the key for me to finish. That, and allocating time to it.

I've always enjoyed writing. Writing comes easily. It's the thinking that's hard work. ;-)
 

Tiamat

Patron
Looks like I have 3 unfinished novels and 25 unfinished short stories. To put that in perspective, I also have 3 finished novels and at least 40 finished short stories. Much like the OP, I used to abandon stuff way more than I do now, and I think a lot of that is that I've discovered there's still value in finishing a story even if you know it's not going to work for anything. First, it still forces you to use your writing muscles to reach a logical climax/resolution, and second, I read something about the importance of completion. Basically, that rush of endorphins you get when you finish something, even if you have no intention of letting another soul ever set eyes on it, you still created a completed something and there's still a sense of "I did a thing!" that goes along with it.

That said, I do not plow through novels if I know they're not working. If I can't think of a way to salvage it, it gets filed away. Maybe I'll come across a stroke of genius some day and pick it back up again. But, RE: the aforementioned 3 unfinished novels, that hasn't happened yet and gets more and more unlikely as time goes by.
 

Cephus

Senior Member
I never abandon anything. I may change it completely, but eventually, if the story is worth spending my time on, it gets done in some fashion. The last time I had one "fail" wasn't the story, it was the formatting. For some reason, I just couldn't see telling the story any other way and that way just didn't work. So I put the story away for about 5 years, came back to it, threw away the formatting and it worked just fine.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
That said, I do not plow through novels if I know they're not working. If I can't think of a way to salvage it, it gets filed away. Maybe I'll come across a stroke of genius some day and pick it back up again. But, RE: the aforementioned 3 unfinished novels, that hasn't happened yet and gets more and more unlikely as time goes by.

That's the big conflict for me, Tiamat.

I am all about finishing and the tremendous grief I inflict on myself for not finishing anything now is a reason why I usually do these days.

However, what does not get spoken about very often is that some stories just aren't very good.

We know that bad books exist, primarily because we actually see quite a lot of them being published, and the fact that they do exist begs the question as to why. Presumably in most cases it's because the writer deluded themselves into thinking the book wasn't crap. But what if the writer did know, yet soldiered on anyway because they were constantly harangued into 'always finish the book!'? Was that not wasted time?

I think I'm mostly on the side of 'finish it unless you are 100% convinced it isn't working', but I think those rare occurrences when a judgment has been made thoughtfully and rationally and attempts to salvage it have not made the improvements...are legitimate.

I don't agree with the idea of, say, working on a project for almost ten years just because you are internally committed to it, despite knowing it isn't very good (and others telling you as much) is a good play.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Mine are five finished books that I wrote back in the 1980's. Got the agent runaround. Got fed up. Stopped writing for 30 years.

They're sitting on an old ZIP drive on a shelf in my office - all are horror novels. I don't have a drive to read and download them, and I don't really want to.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
I have two projects that I abandoned.

The first was my first attempt at writing a novel. It didn't go so well. I had no idea what I was doing and got stuck after about 10 pages.

That happened to me back in 1997 when I started my novel (in high school). I wrote 50 pages over the course of a year and a half on lined paper,
then lost the idea completely. Never thought anything would ever come of it until last year, when I resurrected it as a novella in one of my series.
Changed a couple characters, but the rest fit nicely.

It might take 20 years, but you might finish that novel!

-JJB
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
I have started many stories, I am full of ideas.
Then I abandon them, because they always seem like "stupid stories".
But I don't throw anything away; a future, you never know ..
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I have started many stories, I am full of ideas.
Then I abandon them, because they always seem like "stupid stories".
But I don't throw anything away; a future, you never know ..

Try borrowing some old ideas from an old story and change the plot and characters. Supposedly there is no original plot. Give the characters original conflicts. Take one conflict from an old story and put it in. Make that conflict make the character react in an awkward way. Add complications or consequences of the story. (this is "so what" happens) What are the logical assumptions that follow?

Although I don't know vranger's process. He tried to continue some old conflicts from an older work. This is another example that all stories borrow from older stories. We build on the cannon.

A fear is a desire of what a character does not want to happen.

This is the storytelling process of many people.

Character is action. Action is obstacle. The character works to undermine the other character.
 
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OatmealMan

Senior Member
I've generated unfinished short story after short story in the manner you described, always unable to conceptualize a satisfying ending. And i think it's because for all the reading I did as a kid, video games and their form of storytelling were really always more pertinent to me. Especially coming of age when games were starting to present really compelling and deep stories, often with multiple branching paths the player could take to a conclusion. As i got older, and I started to have firmer opinions about how the world should or could be, it's become easier to push towards a specific conclusion vice just world build.

Another thing that was really hard was writing characters and dialogue....and the only solution i've ever been able to come up with is imagining characters as renamed and slightly revised versions of people i've met in real life. Again, age helped.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I've generated unfinished short story after short story in the manner you described, always unable to conceptualize a satisfying ending.

I've always felt like in a short story, the ending should come first. Then you back up and figure out how to get there. The dominant feature of my favorite short stories is the ending with an twist. I'm pretty sure those authors first thought of the twist, then arranged events to lead to it.
 
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