Every writer has a trunk. What you call it, and how you view it, will differ based on your experience, but the trunk is where your stories go when you put them aside to work on something else. Generally, the stories you trunk are either complete failures you will never work on again, stories you think have potential but need work and so you save them for later, or stories you think are good but you can’t find a buyer for. Mostly mine have been in what I felt was the second category.
I’ve seen some writers state they they never pull out old stories. Once they give up on a story, it goes in the trunk for good and stays there. They never dig anything out because they feel that the effort required to take a bad story and make it good isn’t far off from the effort it takes to think up a new story and make it good.
For the longest time, I’ve held to the exact opposite of that behaviour. I don’t like giving up on my old stories and so every once in a while I’ll dig one out when I want on work on something, and see what I can do with the abandoned concept. Usually, when I’m finished with the rewrite it turns out to be more or less the same story, written differently, and ends up in the trunk again eventually.
I’ve spent the first few days of this month looking for something to write, or rewrite. I went through every single one of the stories in my trunk and there isn’t a single one I want to work on. I don’t know if I leveled up as a writer somewhere along the way, but I look back at all those stories now and I can see exactly what’s wrong with them. More importantly, I’m coming to the conclusion that trying to fix them isn’t worth the effort, because most of those stories are built around cool core concepts that go nowhere, because good stories aren’t about cool things, thay’re about interesting people, and these stories stand on shaky foundations.
I’m looking at those stories the way you might look at a wobbly house. If a house in major disrepair because of a bad foundation, it’s easier to bulldoze the lot than it is to prop the house up, re-pour the foundation, and then fix the house up right. It might even be cheaper to bulldoze, but it’s wasteful where the old material is concerned. For these stories, I look at the effort required to re-pour the foundations and then fix up the rest and I think it’s easier to start fresh on something new. The only thing it costs me in waste is the old idea, but those have never been very hard to come by.
At least, I didn’t think they were. Like my story trunk, I have an idea trunk. Little snippets of imaginings which I thought would make for a good story. The problem is that most of those snippets were imagined as things I would most likely have turned into a trunk story. I look at the snippets and I can see how I was setting myself up for failure because I was going into the writing from the wrong angle. This is at once wonderful (the sensation of having progressed at a skill) and terrifying (the realization that so much of what I was saving for later is crap). I think a lot of the ideas might be salvageable if I can change the way I look at the ideas, it will just take a shift in the process by which I normally take those ideas and make an outline out of them. In the meantime, I’m not doing very much writing, since I’m digging through the idea chest for a likely candidate, but they all feel just slightly inadequate at the moment.
Dig, dig, dig. I’ll find something.