I’ve touched on this topic once or twice, most particularly in my post “Time to Scrap A Writing Project?” I’m a firm believer that although it is very frustrating–and I know, I’ve been there–sometimes the best option is to trash a work in progress and start again, changing things substantially. When this happens, yes, you can feel sad. Yes, you can wish it were possible to salvage what you’d written. Yes, you can be totally and completely annoyed. All those responses make sense to me, and I’ve experienced them all. But the one thing you should never, ever do is consider the time you spent on that WIP wasted. It isn’t, for sure, and here’s why.
- YOU’VE GAINED EXPERIENCE. Besides reading voraciously (see “Why Writers Must Be Readers” and “How to Read as a Writer,”) you cannot improve as a writer without practice writing. Well, that WIP you’re trashing after 40,000 words, or after 100 pages, or even after a completed first draft: that’s practice. That counts. You’ll have honed your craft a bit and come closer to establishing your style, and most importantly, you will have learned some valuable lessons about what doesn’t work in fiction, once you take a few minutes to consider why your WIP isn’t holding together. What’s the nature of the problem there? Identify it, and avoid that in the future. You can’t put a price on personal knowledge like that. (One reason my first novel didn’t work is that it took place in a made-up, fantasy-esque kingdom, but I used no magic at all. It didn’t belong to the fantasy genre, or any genre. I fixed that genre problem when I went on to write “The Crimson League.” Enter Herezoth and its legacy of sorcerers!)
- RECYCLE IDEAS, EVEN CHARACTERS AND PASSAGES. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there is absolutely no reason you can’t return to your WIP to steal from it the things you like most, the aspects that DO work…. Just don’t sue yourself for plagiarism, and you’re in the clear. From my first novel I’ll never publish, I ripped off the plot-points of besieged royalty and a castle with a secret passage some members of the royal family can use to escape. I stole some phrases in dialogue I liked. After I scrapped the first 100 pages of the last installment of the Herezoth trilogy and started again, I recycled characters and even a couple of scenes in other contexts, or at least large chunks of them. The material you’ve tossed is yours, and just because you can’t use it in the way you first imagined, that doesn’t mean you can’t apply something of it to later projects.
- YOU CAN STILL HAVE FRIENDS/BETA READERS LOOK OVER WHAT YOU HAVE AND EXPLAIN WHAT PROBLEMS THEY SEE. If you’re comfortable enough to share your “failures” with a critique group, explaining that you know the piece doesn’t really hold together, but you’d like to take the time to explore why that is, you’ll learn even more about yourself as a writer from others’ remarks. And who knows? Maybe someone else will have a brilliant idea to help you fix things after all! That’s no certainty, but it’s a possibility.
- THIS APPLIES TO NaNoWriMo! If you’re considering doing NaNoWriMo but are holding back because you’re worried you won’t get a “workable” novel at the end of November, my advice is to go ahead and take the plunge anyway, especially if, like me, you’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo. Even if the novel you start 50,000 words for doesn’t develop more, as you can see, those words are not a waste!