When talking of quitting or persevering, the advice usually given to writers is to keep at it. The only way to publish a novel is to write one. It’s good advice, but like most advice, its not universally true. There are times when a project isn’t worth continuing. K.M. Weiland recently realized one of her own projects had reached that point. We talk about it below.
It’s great to have you back again (and again, and again…).
You’ve recently decided to abandon one of your novels, The Deepest Breath. I’m in the second month of working on a new project, the second Jinxx Relinkerys novel, The Ghosts of 29 Million Voices, and have rediscovered struggling with getting words on the page. So let’s talk about when writing gets hard.
You’ve written about how to recognize how to recognize when you should abandon a project, but you only briefly touched on what I think is often the most difficult part of the process: emotionally moving forward. How did you deal with the emotions that came from giving up on The Deepest Breath?
In all honesty, I have to say the most prevalent emotion after deciding to give up on Deepest was relief. I’ve fought so long and so hard with that story, and I was just tired of fighting. It was a relief to know I had “permission,” so to speak, to let it go and move on to something more enjoyable and less stressful.
Of course, I was depressed that the years spent on the project now seem wasted, in the sense that I’ll never share that story with readers or be able to add it to my professional portfolio. But the thought that really helped me was the realization that this story has already fulfilled what it was originally intended to. I write for myself first and foremost; I wrote this story for myself. Just because it turned out to be too fundamentally flawed for me to feel comfortable sharing it with others doesn’t mean it’s a failed story. I wrote it. It’s there on paper. It lives and breathes. It is. It’s no different from any of my other stories, except that I get to keep for myself alone. And there’s a bit of pleasure just in that.
Have you found it harder to return to writing after that disappointment?
Just prior to making the decision to ditch Deepest, I finished my most recent WIP Storming. I always like to give myself a few months in between books, to kind of catch my breath and reboot my brain. So I actually haven’t dived back into active writing yet. I’m planning to start outlining the next book in January. So we’ll see what happens! At this point,Deepest has been technically finished for several years, so I’m much more objective about it than I might have been earlier—which, of course, means I’m also much less emotional. Aside from the lessons I’ve learned from the book’s failure, I don’t feel that it will impact my emotional approach to the next one much.
There’s another element of letting go of your novel that intrigues me. You make your living from your novels and non-fiction about writing, and you have a long calendar of projected writing,editing, revising, and release dates for each of your novels. What are the practical implications of putting The Deepest Breath aside?
Well, you know how much I love schedules! Honestly, my OCD tendency was probably the most difficult factor in the decision. I hate doing things out of order. Plus, the fact that I’ve knocked Deepest out of the publication lineup does mean I have to juggle other projects around. I won’t publish Storming before I feel it’s ready, but its first draft turned out so well that I have high hopes it won’t require as much editing as my last few projects did. If that turns out to be true (it’s still with the first round of beta readers), I’m hoping to bump Storming right up into Deepest’s originally projected 2015 publication slot.
Was your emotional decision made more difficult by the financial implications?
Not necessarily. The better long-term business plan is definitely to produce quality work I’m confident in, rather than to chuck out a book just because it’s there. I’d rather cultivate readers’ trust than take their money.
Do you have any suggestions for writers who don’t find it as easy to move on?
Willpower, old boy, willpower. Just kidding. Well, partly. Honestly, I think that if the story is still calling to you, you should probably heed that. Almost every story is salvageable. The real question is, “How much time and energy are you willing to put into fixing it?” For some of us, that answer is going to be, “Years and years.” Others among us (and depending on the story itself) will want to cut our losses after a certain point and just move on.
I didn’t give up on Deepest because it was proving difficult. I gave up because the story let me give up. If the story had hung on, there’s no way I would have moved away from it.
Very interesting. What about Deepest at that point made you feel the story was letting you go?
Two factors: One, I was feeling like the only way forward, toward fixing it, would be to completely gut it and change everything about the story that I particularly liked. One of the primary problems with that one was that I started out with a flawed premise. To fix it, I would have to return to ground zero and, essentially, write a completely different story. I just didn’t have the passion for that different story.
Second, having just finished Storming—which was one of the easiest, fastest, and most fun first drafts I’ve written in a long time—I felt like I was better served by taking the lessons I had learned and moving forward to new ground.
In a paragraph or two, can you distill what those lessons were?
The biggest, of course, was structure—both for the overall story and for individual scenes. I was familiar with the fundamentals of structure as far back as Dreamlander’s rewrites, but Storming was the first book in which I started the outline from a structural perspective. And it made all the difference in creating a cohesive story that worked from start to finish. I especially can’t emphasize enough the importance of properly structured scenes. When we focus on the integrality of scenes and sequels, it brings a razor-sharp focus to each moment in the story.
Second, I was reminded how important it is to know what type of story we want to write. From the get-go with Storming, I knew exactly what I wanted it to be: a summer blockbuster, action-adventure kind of story. I wanted it to be something with heart, humor, a little romance, and lots of adrenaline. That foreknowledge really helped me focus the story and concentrate on not only what I wanted it to be, but also what it shouldn’t be.
Third, Storming was the first book I’ve written since Behold the Dawn in which I just let that first draft flow. My infernal internal editor had gotten way out of hand during Dreamlander and Deepest. I shoved her in the closet and duct taped her mouth for this one, and I had so much more fun.
And are you the kind of reader who finished the great majority of books you start?
I can’t remember the last book I quit on! I’m going to say maybe I quit on a book once every five years or something like that. But if the book is lousy, I will speed read through it to the end.
Have you had failures that dogged you into the next project?
Not really. I don’t see failures as failures, so much as stepping stones. Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is a failure. We sometimes need that slap in the face to be able to see what we’re really doing wrong. Once we’ve recognized the mistakes we’re making, we can then start moving forward to correcting them. So, really, in a sense, failure is exciting. It means we’re doing something wrong, sure. But the very fact that we’ve recognized it as a failure means we’re also doing something right.