When you spend your time writing stories, you come to understand that sometimes a story will just NOT work out. Oh, you can write the ENTIRE story before you realize this. The universe is sometimes mean that way. I’m sure it could tell you on page three that this one just isn’t gonna fly. But what would you learn? No, Mr./Ms. Universe keeps this wisdom to itself (Of course I said Mr./Ms. — you don’t think the universe is merely one sex, do you! Of course not!). It is in the writing of these certain failures that we grow as writers. You can fly through the story, thinking it’s wonderful–the best thing you ever wrote–but when all is said and done, you know. You know yourself that this one was a wild goose chase. It ain’t happening.
I was SO excited about Dubious Pickles and the Space Between the Walls. It took over my life. I thought it was a winner. I was sure it would be published. I would be the new Roald Dahl! I don’t usually get excited about my writing. I’m more of a negative writer type. I don’t have a lot of confidence in my craft. But Dubious! Man, that was a whole other story. Dubious lived! He was crazy and mild and magical. All kids would fear and fall in love with him! He was this generation’s Willy Wonka.
Only, something went wrong in the telling. Not all stories come out the way you envision them. Or, more often than not, they DO come out the way you envision them. It’s just that the final result isn’t what you envisioned. Brilliance and insanity share a bus seat, people. Side by side, singing all those crazy school bus songs together. Brilliance looks over at Insanity and thinks, “Poor schmuck!” and Insanity looks over at Brilliance and thinks, “Poor Schmuck!” That’s how blurred the line is. There is a little brilliance in all insanity and a little insanity in all brilliance.
I was Brilliance while writing Dubious. I really thought I had a magical hit on my hands. Then, when I tried to edit it, I got my first sniff of something not quite right. Then, when I tried to write the query letter, that sniff became an overwhelming pungency. Wait a minute…this is difficult to pinpoint. What is it? I mean, WHAT IS IT? That was my first clue that the story just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.
It’s extremely hard to put our loved ones to bed for the last time…to allow them to go for that big sleep. You think, ‘maybe if I just work on it, fix the lumps and smooth out the bumps!’ But no, sometimes our job as writers is to know when to scrap a project. Love it or not, we have to grow in this craft…we have to be able to recognize our own stink bombs. Good writing–heck, great writing–does not guarantee a great story. (Not that I’m saying my writing was good…it was a little frantic when I finally calmed down enough to read it with a clear head.) Sometimes all the effort in the world won’t carry a story whose time to be told has not yet arrived.
If you find yourself knowing a story has failed, know when to say when. Know when to say goodbye. Because if you don’t, you won’t be growing. You can stagnate in a story that isn’t ready. Just let go. Chase the next idea.