Being a writer means making lots of choices. Why did Uncle Melvin kill off Cousin Carl? How will Detective Haskins discover the killer? Why did Sarah run off with Luigi? And on and on…
One of the toughest things about being a writer is knowing when to quit. Not necessarily for the day, but when is the story done. Or when it’s not done, and there’s nothing you can do at this point in your life to make it done.
I’m facing one of those times right now.
For the last 6 1/2 years, I’ve been working on a novel project. It’s had a lot of names, but right now, it’s “Homebody”. This novel predates my children being born, and the two main characters actually predate my marriage.
Over the last year or so, I’ve struggled with the book. I’m on like the 7th draft or some crazy thing, and I keep feeling like I’m circling around when it could be considered done, but just not quite there. Those who have read it say the same thing. But I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it, not now at least. For a while, I thought it was done: I submitted it to agents, and have received a few nice, even encouraging replies, but nothing that would have me thinking I’m almost there.
In a last-ditch effort, I asked Texas Momma (aka Linda Yezak) to take a look at it this spring. Between all her battles, she read a few chapters, but life happened and she had to return it, mostly unread, but with a few very helpful suggestions.
Then, last week, I got that niggling feeling again, like it was time to let it go.
I’ve had that feeling off and on for a while. I’m not sure why, but after it came back stronger than ever, I decided I’d e-mail Texas Momma about it. Even though I asked, I wasn’t quite prepared for the blunt reply:
“Give up on Homebody. Save the personalities for another book, if you’d like, but I’d quit on it.”
My stomach clenched reading those words. This book has become so much a part of my identity the last several years. How can I just give it up? It’s almost like abandoning one of my children at the grocery store.
One thing you should learn early on as a writer is to kill your darlings. In other words, that turn of phrase you think is so clever, or that scene that you love but doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the book. Perhaps it’s the same way with this book–it’s become my darling in many ways.
When I first started it, I was a completely different person than I am today. I had different goals, different aspirations, different worries. And, writing… and rewriting Homebody was cathartic in many ways. In the past six years, I’ve started work on several other projects, most of which I’ve finished, one or two I haven’t for whatever reason–my creative juices ran out, I lost interest, etc.
Homebody wasn’t the first novel I wrote. No, that disgraceful thing happened back in my teens. I pray it never again sees the light of day. A couple more came in between, both before and after a hiatus in my last semester of college into the first year of married life. Perhaps Homebody is that transition for me–the one I needed to get out, but isn’t yet worthy of being published. Perhaps the next one or two books I’ve got on my plate will be it. I hope so.
For now, I must say goodbye to this story. Thank you for helping me grow as a writer. I’m sorry I had to use you to do it, that you never reached your full potential, that I wasn’t the writer you needed me to be. Just know that even though you will remain on my flash drive, and I may never open you again, you’ve been valuable. I will always have fond memories of writing you.
As for my characters, Amanda O’Flannigan and Richard “Rick” Pierce, I think they’ll be around again. Almost as soon as I made the decision that it was time to cut it loose, I got a new idea which would be perfectly suited (I think) for them. And, Homebody definitely allowed me to come up with a great deal of back-story for these two. I hope it comes to fruition, mostly because I love both of these characters dearly. I’m not quite ready to quit on them, even if I have to quit on one of their stories.
For the time being, I’m going to get back to work on “Reprisal”. I’m mid-way through the 3rd draft, and it’s lingered far too long as I’ve had two children, done NaNo, and tried to get that OTHER book done. I’ll try to post monthly reports, even if they’re brief, on how that’s going. Once I’ve completed the 3rd draft, I’m going to go back to my 2009 NaNo project, “Beyond Dead”. It’s very short–just barely over the 50K minimum to win NaNo, and ideally I’d prefer it around 80K. That’s a lot of words to add! But, one thing at a time.
If you’re a writer, how do you gauge when it’s time to cut a story loose permanently and stop working on it? Have you ever had to do it? Did you mourn for the story and/or characters as I feel I’m doing a bit of now?