by Laura Anne Gilman
Today, we talk about retirement.
No, before the old-timers in the audience laugh hysterically, I’m not talking about financial retirement. I’m talking about hanging it up. Letting go. Turning our attention to something else. Retiring a story from the field.
Over the years, I’ve heard people say “I love this story too much to give up on it,” or variations thereof. And that is, for the most part, a very good thing. If you believe in a story, if you think it has something to say, then you should keep with it.
(you knew there was a however, right?)
How long can you keep working on something? How long should you keep working?
There comes a time when an unsold story –short form or long, but especially long (novel) form – becomes a negative force. A vampire, if you will. It drains your energy, your brains, and your writing-time – and gives nothing back. It might be the best idea, it might have a solid execution… it might just be a matter of time before you find the right editor/market for it.
But right now, you need to step back and look at what you’re not doing, in that time. Are there projects that didn’t get the attention they deserved? Are there ideas you put to the side? Is your stress level rising – are you getting so wound up in making this work, that your life is feeling the stress, too?
And more – are you really doing the story a service? If you keep going back and reworking something to make it sell… is that the best thing for the story? You need to step back and look at it objectively – and if you can’t be objective, then this is where a good and trusted agent is worth their weight in rubies.
I don’t buy into the “you need to write a million words of crap, first” theory, because good and crap can come at any point in a career. But I do believe that there are some stories that you write just so that you can get to the next level.
This is where I tell you something that you already know, or should know. In fact, it should be tattooed on your soul, assuming you haven’t sold that already: You are not your work. It’s okay to say “well, that’s not working.” You can trunk it, you can shred it, you can cannibalize the bits and reuse the pieces that breathed in other work. Nothing “has” to sell. Your worth as a writer does not depend on a beloved idea coming to market.
So before you tell yourself “I love this story too much to give up on it”, answer this question honestly: Is it really something that has to sell? Or do you just not want to give up on something you love/spent time on?
Is it time to retire that story?
and, in case you missed it, I direct you to an earlier unrelated but important post on this blog: Nancy Jane Moore’s The Risk of the Writing Business
Coming up in Week 41: Author Copies: Plague or Menace?
Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, including the upcoming urban fantasy TRICKS OF THE TRADE (12/11), and THE SHATTERED VINE, Book 3 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy (10/11). Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, which SF Signal called “amazingly evocative….a potent ride through a changing future,” was published by Fairwood Press in June 2011. For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman) And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.