We as storytellers often get very attached to our words and ideas. We write something, and even if we’re willing to revise it, we still won’t change it that much. If we’ve written words, we want to fix those words. If we have written a character or a plot point, we try to shape those over and over again, to get the right image.
What if you started over completely?
Author Jodi Meadows mentioned recently that she had wholesale “deleted” the first draft of the third book in her series. Why? She had made so many changes to the first and second books after they were edited and revised for publication that the third book would require an intense amount of revision just to fit with the other two books. Instead, she decided to start over.
Are words sacred? Sometimes it feels like it, especially when we’re carving out time to tell our stories and just starting. Every hundred and thousand words feel like they were written in blood. But the truth is, they weren’t. Storytellers are creative people, and although it might not always feel like it, our creativity is endless. However, that creativity can be stifled, and it can be stifled by our own stories when we stubbornly hold on to a story that isn’t quite right.
A while back I realized many of my stories had the themes or plots or other elements in common. The stories themselves probably wouldn’t be recognizable as “same” to someone else (unless they were really analyzing them), but I saw those similarities. I realized–no, not that I had a limited amount of stories in my head and I was completely unoriginal–but that there are themes, plots, and other elements that I will hammer out over and over. Why? Near as I can tell, it’s because there is this formless, unspeakable idea in my mind, and I keep writing it over and over again in different ways until I finally hit upon it in a way that will satisfy my subconscious and my muse. Then I will theoretically move on to something else.
(It might also be that you’re attracted to a certain theme or story type. The advice still holds true.)
Are you stuck on a story that just doesn’t seem quite “right?” Try approaching it in a completely different manner. Change characters, settings, or story arcs, and see what happens. (If you’re feeling really brave, you could even change your medium.) You aren’t wasting words. You’re exploring ideas. You might not keep one or the other, or you might keep both. What you discover in your multiple versions might help another, or they might be completely distinct to one another. You might even find yourself able to take a story, such as Jodi did, and restart it from the beginning–same world, same characters–and turn it into something new.
Be brave. Every time you challenge yourself, you improve yourself as a storyteller and you are not wasting your words.