Going back to the WIP that broke you.

  1. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton The storyteller

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    We all have that one story, that WIP, that turned into the mill stone, the straw that broke the camel’s back. That one story that made you doubt your ability to write. The one that lies buried for most of the time, but every now and then rises like a zombie from its grave and begins to eat at your mind.

    Most of mine was written in 2012. Though notes, ideas, and some scenes go back a further three years.

    Since then I have tried to split it into a duology, (didn’t work). Tired to re-write it from various different POV’s (again didn’t work) Tried different formats. flash-backs, flash-forwards, etc, etc This certainly didn’t work, as I always go back to the original idea of intercut scenes, different time, place, character, letting the reader figure it out, or not. (Stubborn with this I be.)

    The problem with this old WIP is that the main chunk, the story at its heart, was written at a bad time in my life. Basically, the last 18 months of my mother’s life. Not only having to fight the NHS, and social services to give my mother the care she needed, but in many ways, mentally fight her, and things from my not so happy childhood, which had been buried for a long time, coloured the manuscript in many ways. So each time I have tried to read it back I was in a way taken back to the situation I was in then.

    I have spent the last 5 years, working through things, changing my life, achieving many of the goals I had set myself in late October 2012. Of my first list of things, (Oh there are newer, different kinds of bucket lists now,) the only outstanding item is to get this WIP finished at least to first draft.

    My problem is the doubt about being able to write this, is still there. I never had the doubt with Oracle, or Hand of Glory, or anything else I have written. So I have taken the decision to hammer the written draft into a sort of readable narrative over the next few weeks and get some feedback on a half written story. Something I have never done before. I have always submitted a completed first draft to my guinea pigs before.

    So folks, good idea or not? Or should I try and re-bury the thing?
     
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  2. HareBrain

    HareBrain Bunny of Wonder Staff Member

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    In my experience, it does sound like you'd be better off burying it. Also in my experience, I'm not sure you'll be able to.
     
  3. Phyrebrat

    Phyrebrat ba-Ba-ba-brat

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    I sympathise and can empathise as I think I’m in the thick of my ‘nearly breaking me’ novel.

    (Incidentally, I like the sound of your flashback structuring.)

    With help from people here on Chrons, particularly TJ, HB, Dan, Peat, VB, TDZ, mouse, The Boss, and ratsy, I’ve managed to work through each challenge as it has come. I’m bloody minded about not letting things beat me, which I detect in your post, too.

    My point is that this place has been a great support system; PMs and emails have saved my backside many, many times.

    Sometimes it’s a case of sharing and someone liking the excerpt, sometimes it’s just a case of brainstorming by email.

    So my advice is stick at it but don't put a timescale on it, especially if you can work on 2 projects at a time.

    You’ve already finished 2 novels so that should help, too.

    pH
     
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  4. Jo Zebedee

    Jo Zebedee writes books about people.

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    I find it very hard to fix something very broken.
     
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  5. Biskit

    Biskit Cat whisperer

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    I have several, nowhere near as grim as your experience.

    One immediately sprang to mind as I read your post - the first time I wrote it, it just didn't work, but the story itself just wouldn't go away. So I started again, and gave up. And again, and gave up...
    I don't know how many rounds I went, but a couple of years back I tried again with no particular expectations - very much at the level of 'bored now, need something to do' and I took a poke at it. Now it works. (Whether anyone would want to publish it is another matter.)

    Somewhere, lurking on a hard-drive (currently around my knee-level) is an epic fantasy trilogy I wrote years and years ago. It's a wonderful, fun story and really the only thing wrong with it is the writing - along with the plotting, too many POVs etc, but really the killer is the writing itself. I can't even put a finger on what's wrong with it, but it is definitely wrong. When I came to do the first pass of editing, my partner started reading and almost literally said 'do I have to?' So, I started going through to clean it up first... and did the equivalent of asking myself, 'do I have to?' It got shelved, but a few years later I had an idea and started re-writing from scratch - not even looking at the original MS. That seemed to be going well until it stalled for some reason. The last time I went back and looked at that second pass, I thought the story was going well, but there was just something wrong with the writing, if only I could put my finger on the problem...

    Overall, I recommend burying them in a shallow grave, marked with a stone inscribed with big letters I'll be back. That way you can keep an eye on them, do flowers on a suitable anniversary, or a ring of salt depending.
     
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  6. ratsy

    ratsy www.scifiexplorations.com

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    Sue, I'd probably let it go personally, but do what feels right for you. We as writers have to be able to let things be trunked. Not everything will work as we hoped it to. I say start something new, fresh, and fun and make writing something you are excited to be doing, not forcing yourself to beat that old manuscript that leaves you remembering the negative emotions of the time.
     
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  7. Montero

    Montero Senior Member

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    I have several that ran aground and I may or may not return to. I have finished books, so I don't feel like a total failure if I stop and say "this is so not working for me" and quit. I think one part of the writer's experience is learning what you are rewarded by writing. What really sings for you. Not all plots and styles work for all people. At the moment my focus is outwards - trying new ways and new stuff. Also learning my weaknesses - and working on ways to avoid my weaknesses or strengthen up my performance. But mostly its avoidance.

    Or what Ratsy just said.
     
  8. Cathbad

    Cathbad Male with Ugly (white) Beard

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    I had two books finished, of what I'd outlined as a seven-book series, before abandoning it because the market became overly flooded with the topic. (If you guessed vampires, you're right).

    I still think my take on the subject is quite unique, and I hope to return to it at some point - when every other novel published doesn't include vampires.
     
  9. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    First off, I believe there's no problem with sending your personal guinea pigs something a bit on the rough side, particularly if they know what they're getting into.

    Second... I think all of us get into writing seriously because we have ideas that just won't go away. And the only way to exorcise the bastards is to write them. The question is whether you'll be happier with it nagging away at you but not having to put in the work, or happier doing the work and not letting it nag.

    And from the sounds of it, you know the answer for yourself is the latter.

    In which case, good idea. And by good, I mean that comparative to your other options, its the best one. Sometimes you simply have to take your best option and get on with it.
     
  10. tinkerdan

    tinkerdan candycane shrimp

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    What's the most fascinating aspect of this work that you want to resurrect it?
    A unique idea?
    A unique character?
    A unique plot?
    There are more questions you might add for yourself.

    Whatever the fascination, you may not have yet fallen upon the best way to tell the story; because you haven't identified what exactly it is.
    Just a thought.
     
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  11. Montero

    Montero Senior Member

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    The thing about exorcism through writing - the best approach can sometimes be not to include them in a fictional book, but just to write down what happened, what you thought and felt, what you wish could have happened, what you think you could have done better - and for balance I'd suggest also "how it could have been worse". Get it out of your system that way. Later on, it can then be useful raw material (sometimes very raw) for you to draw on to remember what it all felt like at the time.

    I think though that what tinkerdan just posted is really valuable. And one question to ask is - "is the only reason I am trying to write this is because its on my list and I hate failing"?
     
  12. millymollymo

    millymollymo Automaton in disguise

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    What a perfectly timed post Susan, thank you :D

    Distance helps spot the broken, but doesn't fix them. The more you rebuild the more you doubt it.
    I have come to the conclusion that a fresh slate is better than one covered in scrapes and gouges, I'm tucking mine away in a box.

    But. Has it broken you, or did it make you stronger ;)
     
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  13. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton The storyteller

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    Going to try and answer each post, so forgive the length of this and I am sure some of my word choices might trigger the censor in the program. :eek: Also thanks all for your thoughts.

    Phyrebrat, the flashback structuring is one I have been toying with for a long time. If it works in a longer form, (i.e. a chapter here, chapter there, sort of thing, as in the Zombie WIP) I want to use it in shorter sections, maybe even down to a longish paragraph structure, and to hell with all the rules of what you should do.

    I am not very good at sharing WIP's I find that unless I have at least the whole story down in a rough first draft before I share anything, I start re-writing things too soon, without the story setting in my mind. In honesty I get confused and lost.

    Finished a lot more than two. Oracle and Hand of Glory were my 4th and 5th books. The other 3, are finished crap, but finished, even if they go no further.

    That's what I think as well. Damned if I do and damned if I don't.

    Not the story that is/was broke, it was me for a long time. Something in me snapped with regards to writing during the time I was working on this.

    I think we all have our, "epic fantasy", lurking on our hard drives. I know I do, a 500,000 word monster which would make 3 books easily. That story doesn't bother me, nor do the dozens of half started ideas for novels and short stories. Just this one does and it breaks through the ring of salt quite often. :confused:


    I am hoping to start something new, and it won't be fantasy, SF or horror (maybe a dash, but not supernatural in the accepted terms, more the power of the past over the present sort of thing.) But the crunch thing is, if I leave this WIP I do feel as if by doing that I have let the negative emotions and memories win. I haven't shown myself that I have changed and accepted the past, rather than wallowing in it and allowing it to rule me. (hence the ideas swirling of late with regards to the new idea.)

    Avoidance I have come to believe, stores up problems that do in time come back and bite you in the bum. Even if it is just regret at stopping too early.

    Actually I think vampires will never go out of fashion, the same with Zombies. People have been saying they will for years and it hasn't happened yet.


    The Big Peat, the thing is with my guinea pigs is that I know the first question they will ask is, "where is the rest? Don't torment us!"

    Yes the answer is the latter, I think, though getting my bum on the seat in the study will be hard at times.


    It has two out of the 3 things you have listed. I also want to write it the way I feel it needs to be written, no over thinking things, or making it should fit into this or that format, set of rules etc. Maybe this adds to the emotional baggage with this work. I don't want to play it safe with the story telling or construction.

    Montero, if I wrote it all down I would be writing for a long time. As for hating to fail, failure and disappointment are old friends, it is succeeding that scares the hell out of me. Though getting Oracle and especially, Hand of Glory, with it painful history with regards to so many near misses, published has shown be that it is not all that bad.

    Broken me? For a while I have actually felt it had. Not the story, never that, just the baggage surrounding it and having the courage and strength to finish it
     
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  14. ratsy

    ratsy www.scifiexplorations.com

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    I think that is the wrong way to look at it. The past is gone, doesn't exist. Negative emotions surrounding something can be pushed aside. You're giving them power by accepting they exist, and by linking them to a WIP that you are thinking of going back to doesn't sound like a good idea! I think by leaving the unfinished WIP in the past with the negative emotions, and coming out with something new, and exciting, and positive would be the ideal way to show yourself you can move forward. Just my opinion of course! I wish you all the best in whatever you do :)
     
  15. The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    I think there are two issues here, Sue, so the first thing to do is to see if they can be separated. There's the structuring of the story which to date you don't feel you've cracked, and there's the emotion that wells up in you when you read what you've written and recall those 18 months.

    So, can you revisit the story without having to look at the previous versions? That is, start wholly afresh without so much as glancing at whatever you've written before? The reason I ask is that it might be possible to separate out the story from your memories if the actual words you wrote aren't there on the screen beside you. By way of a trivial example, my niece once phoned me when I was just starting a scene. The scene has no connection with her or the subject of her call -- which was utterly ordinary, not at all upsetting or worrying -- but for a good year or two I couldn't read the scene without at the same time remembering the call. And each time I read and remembered I reinforced the relationship between the two.

    Of course, your memories are a lot more traumatic, so it may be the very fact of the plot and the names of the characters will be enough to remind you of that time. Nonetheless, starting from scratch might be worth a go.

    If you can separate them, then the next part is relatively easy. Write the novel as you originally envisaged it, cut-jumps and everything, and to hell with conventional story-telling. Don't write the whole 100-120,000 words if you feel that's beyond you immediately -- just a, say, 30,000 word "outline" with lots of notes of the "Fight scene here" type. The structure still might not work, but you've got the draft you promised yourself, and you can send it to your beta-readers. Don't worry about it being complete or otherwise -- you're sending a first draft. The fact you've not done that before is neither here nor there. You've not had to do it before. If they clamour for a more detailed version, all well and good.

    Otherwise, instead of focusing on the end result of sending a draft, however incomplete, to your beta-readers, have you thought of seeking their -- or indeed, our -- help with the process? Write out the basic plot as if you were doing a long synopsis, then make a list of the various options you've tried, and invite their/our feedback on how best to present it. Someone may see a way through that hasn't occurred to you yet. This would probably work best at a brainstorming physical meeting, but online should work, and on here you could use Writing Group which isn't accessible to the general viewer of the site.

    Finally, having re-read your opening post I do wonder if the way the story brings back all those memories sounds a bit like the reaction of someone who has PTSD. I know you'll have investigated shell-shock for Hand of Glory, so you'll undoubtedly know more than I do about it, but it might be worth considering whether there is still a part of you that needs healing. You appear to have moved on in the last 5 years, but perhaps you haven't yet fully come to terms with that dreadful time and you need to do so before you can approach this novel and tame it.

    Whatever you decide -- or don't decide! -- good luck with it.
     
  16. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    I would advance the theory - tentatively, very tentatively - that reviewing what happened through the prism of a story might be a helpful way to come to terms with what has happened and help the healing process.

    Its also potentially a good way to wound your psyche even more though.
     
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  17. anthorn

    anthorn Well-Known Member

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    I am still working on the WIP that's broken me, but at least my writing is awesome compared to how it was when I started. 2003 to 2017 a hundred different variations but the backstory and main gist of it never changing.
     
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  18. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton The storyteller

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    Sorry for not getting back to this sooner, been a busy couple of weeks in the real world.

    I actually think you are wrong. The past is never gone. OK, you can push aside what happens, pretend it never did happen, but there comes a time when it comes back and bites you big time on the bum! The problems surrounding my mother's last couple of years brought up elements of my childhood which I thought I had moved past. In fact I had just pushed them aside, not dealt with them. Now I have, least to the point that I can and have moved on. It is just this WIP, which through no fault of its own, by being written then, got tangled up with it.

    Yes, in many ways.

    No, because for the simple reason, the last version is some of the best writing I have ever done and I don't want to lose it.

    I find it very hard to share incomplete ideas, and to be honest, nothing I write never ends up like the original synopsis. Once I have something written I am very open to change, it is when I am writing first drafts I hide everything.

    I wouldn't class my mental state anything like PTSD. It has been bad, and I have been to a few dark places. I think every one if they are honest has been in their life. Talking it through with others, some total strangers, has helped a lot, in fact part of the program I went through before my gastric by pass surgery was attending sessions with a counsellor, and you know we talked about everything except my weight at that time.
     
  19. zmunkz

    zmunkz Well-Known Member

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    Some stories demand to be told, so I can’t say what you should do in this specific case. But in general, if a story put you in a bad place with your writing, I wouldn’t return to it. Write other things, hijack the ideas you liked or even the characters, but otherwise let the old story die and let better ones grow from the lessons it gave you.
     
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