Friday, March 10, 2017

Changing Projects in Midstream

Craft: Have you ever stopped abruptly and taken up a different project and never gone back to the old one?

by Paul D. Marks

Before I get to this week’s question, a little BSP. I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, “Ghosts of Bunker Hill,” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. In fact, I’m blown away. I want to thank everyone who voted for it! And I’m tempted to give Sally Field a run for her money and say, “You like me, you really like me,” or at least my story 😉. If you’d like to read it (and maybe consider it for other awards) you can read it free on my website: 

And now to the question at hand:

Yes. The battlefield of writerdom or is that writer-dumb is littered with the debris of the war of words. Ideas are so much easier to come by than a finished property. So sometimes you think an idea is worth pursuing and begin working on it only to find that it doesn’t build up a full head of steam, at least not enough of one to get it to the finish point. Or sometimes you’re in the middle of a spec project and another idea comes along that you spark to even more. And sometimes a paid gig comes along and that takes precedence over anything. There are a million reasons why one might abandon a project before it’s done. But mostly I never consider it abandoned forever. Pretty much everything is there to be gone back to at some time…if you live long enough.

Maybe it’s easier for “outliners” than “pantsters” to know if they’ll make the slog through to the end of a project. After all, if they do a fairly complete outline they’ll know how the story is going to go and pretty much whether or not it will work and has the legs to make it to the finish line. But us pansters don’t know the whole story ahead of time. We work it as we go so we might sometimes find that it doesn’t work as well as we thought when we came up with the idea.

So, the answer to the question is yes, I’ve dropped projects in the middle for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I’ve just lost the inspiration. Sometimes something wasn’t working. Or another idea came along that I was more hot to trot about. Or a paying gig.

One early novel that’s been abandoned for ages had actually been picked up by a major publisher. Then that publishing house did a clean sweep of its editorial department and my novel was swept out with them. I might have taken it to another publisher after that, except it was a satire and a lot of the humor in it was dated and I just never got around to tweaking it because so many other things came up in the meantime. But I still think about it and it’s in my head to go back to it someday, so it isn’t really dead…I hope. Sometimes things were abandoned because of the “great minds think alike” theory or at least steal alike. I had a couple of screenplays that were making the rounds and eventually similar stories were produced. Now it may be that great minds think alike, but in the two cases I’m particularly thinking of it seems to me that my scripts had been to the producers who eventually did the similar projects. Coincidence? Maybe. But someday I might pull them out of mothballs and see what I can do with them.

Another thing is I have some screenplays that were optioned over and over but ultimately didn’t make it to the silver screen. They’re sort of abandoned, but one of these days I might just turn them into novels. So maybe they’re not abandoned after all.

It’s hard to give up on a project. It’s like giving up on a child who’s an underachiever. Hopefully that child will ultimately achieve the things you hoped they’d achieve and ditto for the story that you abandoned. Maybe you’ll go back to it in time and make it work. On the other hand if your child turns out to be a serial killer you might just want to abandon him forever, same with a story that’s not behaving.

Going back to a story that you’ve left happens often. Even after a story is done and sent out. If it’s rejected it might sit for some time but eventually I might go back to it and try to give it some CPR.

Few stories are truly worth abandoning altogether. But that doesn’t mean my computer isn’t littered with stories started and not completed for the reasons stated above. It’s just that sometimes other things take precedence for those reasons and I just don’t have time to go back to an earlier story. And sometimes they just run out of steam, both on the page and in my head [no comments, please 😏 ].

So, while I might have moved on from a particular project here and there, ultimately there are really no abandoned projects, at least for me.

And now for the usual BSP:

Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea is available at and Down & Out Books.


hari andro said...

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Art Taylor said...

Congratulations on the Readers' Award--that's tremendous news, and how did I miss it?? I haven't even seen the list yet--but thrilled to see you at the top of it.

And good post too here, of course... though again, the big news is right there at the top. :-)


Cathy Ace said...

Congratulations on the recognition, Paul...well-deserved! Super post, too :-)

Danny Gardner said...

Congratulations on the honor, Paul! Your post this week definitely resonates.

Unknown said...

Congratulations! I look forward to reading the story tonight!!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thank you for your comments, Hari. I’m glad you enjoy this blog.

Thanks, Art! As I said in the post, my mind is blown. I never expected this. But I am truly thrilled.

Thanks on both counts, Cathy!

Thanks, Danny! And I suppose we all have that “drawer” of abandoned projects, hopefully to be resurrected someday.

Thanks, RM! Hope you’ll enjoy the story.

GBPool said...

I never shovel dirt on top of projects that I didn't complete. That's what drawers are for. I wrote the opening to a story back in high school that I liked. I looked at it about a year ago and realized what the story could be. I'm sure it wasn't what I had in mind at seventeen. It's the beginning of a new short story series called Second Chance... I guess the old story is going to get just that.

Paul D. Marks said...

Gayle, to paraphrase Douglas MacArthur, old stories never die -- and maybe they don't even fade away, they just hibernate to live another day. And I love the image of shoveling -- or not -- dirt on uncompleted projects.

Anonymous said...

Congrats Paul. And know so well about abandoned/resting/to be finished/sometimes never thought of again projects and ideas. But, you never know.... Great post.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Madeline, on both counts. And as for projects, like you say, you never know. I've gone back to things that I thought were dead and they've turned out pretty well.