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34: When should you scrap a project?

This week, authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss if you should scrap a project and how you might approach that. Do you ditch the whole thing and start something new? Do you try to re-write it?

Transcript

Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m your host, Crys Cain, with my cohost, J Thorn. J, how’s it going?  

J: It’s going great. How are you doing?  

Crys: I am pretty good. I am in another bout of chaos as I shared this week in the mastermind that I’ve, I think I shared, I can’t remember. It’s kind of blurry, that I have to sell Vancy because we have to get back to Costa Rica in time to figure out this whole school thing, because it’s a completely different size stone. 

J: I didn’t know you were going to have to sell Vancy. I thought you were going to drive her all the way down.  

Crys: That was the hopeful plan. But then when we sat down and we figured out timing, I was like, oh, it just doesn’t make sense. And leaving her up here in the hopes that I can drive her down sometime in the future also does not make sense. Cause there’s no real time when that might be.  

J: Okay.  

Crys: So it’s sad, but I’m excited that we’ll be able to get into the new normal a little bit faster.  

J: Yeah. Yeah. That’s exciting.  

Crys: Yeah. So I have to empty her out. I picked up all the stuff that I’d stored seven years ago when I moved to Costa Rica that I stored at my ex’s parents’ house. 

I picked all that up. I have to unload all that. Then I have to get her tidied up and picture perfect. So a little extra chaos. And then I have to pack her up again, cause we’re still going to live in her for another three weeks.  

J: Okay. So that was my next question. So you have to get all this ready, but you’re not going to sell her for another couple of weeks. 

Crys: Yeah. We’re gonna pack up as if we’re going to find somebody on the road, sell her and then go to the airport which knowing my life that might actually happen. But that’s what I’m going to basically be prepared for.  

J: Maybe JP wants to know.  

Crys: JP listening, another van? Another van? 

And he’s going to murder me.  

How about you? How’s your week been?  

J: Great. I’m getting really excited. I know we haven’t talked about it much on the podcast. We’ll talk about it probably later, but I’m going to be certifying some three-story method editors pretty soon, and I’m getting really excited for that again. 

Crys: Yeah I’m excited. It’s going to be a really great crew. And a few of us crazies are having Airbnb together and that’s going to be a special insanity  

J: that just speaks volumes about you guys in this community that you are all like, let’s just share a house. Yeah.  

Crys: Let’s be all up in each other’s space for an extra two nights. 

Cause this the conference or the workshop is. Saturday and Sunday, but most of us are going to be there Thursday through Monday.  

J: That’s awesome. Yeah.  

Crys: Like we busy each other, even though like half of us have never met in person. 

J: It’s going to be a blast.  

Crys: I’m very excited. So question this week and just to warn listeners for next week, we are for the next little bit, we will be batching again, all told you, just get weird delivery until the end of October, beginning of November. But my question for today came from. Our mastermind. 

One of our members came and said, Hey, I just got my work back from my editor. And the suggestions she made were really extensive. Should I scrap this? And start from scratch or should I dive in? And so my question is a little bit of a reframing on that, but when should you scrap a project and when should you push through it? 

Like after the first draft, like the first draft is done.  

J: Yeah. W my sort of immediate short answer, which I think we can unpack a little bit is if you’re thinking about doing it, you should probably do it.  

Crys: Yeah. And why is that? Tell me, you tell me where that’s coming from.  

J: Yeah, I think that is that’s the inner voice and this isn’t even really related to writing. 

It’s that inner voice that we all need to pay more attention to it. Some people call it a gut feeling or an intuition or spiritual intervention. However you want to label it. There is there’s something inside of it. That will usually pop up and say, wow, this is really great. Or this is really terrible, or I should really do this, or I really shouldn’t do this. 

And when you hear that, and then you articulate it to someone else, to me that already tells me that you already know that something you should do. And oftentimes as in this circumstance, Going to inflict some short-term pain and and, but the payoff is a long-term gain and that’s really hard for humans to grapple with. 

We want the immediate gratification, like we don’t want to delay pleasure and we’d certainly don’t want to incur pain. But this just feels like one of those situations where we all know. The great part of being in a community is you can have people reflect that back to you. Like people can say here’s what I’m hearing you say, and you go, oh yeah. 

And maybe you couldn’t hear that on your own. So I don’t know. Do you have a gut feeling on things? Do you let your intuition push you in certain directions on certain things  

Crys: I’ve never done this. I’ve never scratched a project and started from scratch after it’s. Through a full draft. I have definitely scrapped projects like 10 or 20,000 and restarted, but never a full thing. 

And so this is really interesting to me because I haven’t, let me  

J: ask you a clarifying question on that then, because. I’m not necessarily. Sure. And really we’re trying to interpret a post in slack, so we could both be a bit off here, but I don’t think that the question was necessarily, do I just throw this in the trash? 

It was like, do I rewrite this from scratch? Which I think I was saying, just give up completely.  

Crys: One of my follow-up questions–and I have absolutely thrown things in the trash and not gone back to them. So that’s different. But one of my questions was going for you is going to be… how is that… what does your process of starting from the beginning look like? If you’ve had that happen before. 

J: I can’t say I’ve had that exact situation or I’ve blocked it out like women do for childbirth. But I do have a frame, like a context of it and it’s something I’m going to be doing with one of the projects I’m currently working on, where I’m going to have to restructure it completely. 

I’m keeping the core of the story, I’m keeping the premise, I’m keeping the characters, and as this person mentioned, these were structural changes, which leads me to believe that there were plot problems. So you’re not necessarily tossing out everything, but what I would do is okay, I’m keeping the characters, I’m keeping the premise.  

And then I start looking at, if it’s me, I have an outline, so I’m going to go back and I’m going to reshuffle the outline. Or if I were a pantser, I would say, okay, first thing I need to do is create a reverse outline. I need to read my book and I need to outline it and then see. Or maybe that’s what the editor did.  

But either way, I think this is something that I’ve seen myself do, especially in collaborations where I take a draft and I’m not revising it, I’m rewriting. But I’m not throwing it out and rewriting it. I’m rewriting it from what’s already there. I don’t know if this is making any sense or not.  

Crys: So when you rewrite it, and I know that this is some people’s like second draft process and some people might call it like a full rewrite. Do you have, cause like in Scrivener you can have two files open or you could have two screens with two word files open, do you have the old one in front of you and you’re rewriting a scene as you’re looking at the old version, or do you disregard everything you wrote completely in your rewriting? Or you would rewrite from a new outline based on the old but what you’ve learned from the first process? 

J: Yeah, it depends on. The severity of the restructuring that has to take place. So if it’s cosmetic things or tone or character development, then it wouldn’t matter if it was in Scrivener or Google docs or word, but I would go paragraph by paragraph and I would put the cursor underneath the existing paragraph, re type it, delete the old one and move through that way. 

But that doesn’t work if you have serious structural problems, because then you’re just polishing something that doesn’t work. So in that case, I think I, as I said, what I would do is I would either pull up the outline or reverse outline it. And then I would I would try and place the existing chapters or scenes on the new outline with the understanding that some of the scenes are going to remain and some are not.  

But that’s a pretty extensive project and it’s probably the most intense energy you can have in the writing process, in my opinion. When you have a complete. That’s novel sized that needs restructured, to me, there’s no greater, there’s no heavier lifting than that.  

And I’m not saying that to discourage anyone. But I think to acknowledge that the intensity of the effort there is going to be supreme. Because if you think about like first drafting, a lot of times, you’re just vomiting the words out. And in revising, if you’re revising something you know works, then you’re really polishing. 

But this is that rare instance, hopefully rare for many writers, you have some really heavy lifting to do and you have to be patient with yourself.  

Crys: Yeah. I don’t know if I would have the patience to rewrite a story. A short story, sure. But a full novel? And the only instance I can think of that would really prompt me to do it is if it’s in the middle of a series. Otherwise it’d be like, all right, that project just didn’t work. I’m going to take what I learned and apply it to something completely new.  

Is that the best for learning purposes? I don’t know. I don’t know. It could be a better use of my time to just move forward and maybe create something that doesn’t take as long, or I could learn a lot faster if I dug it and figured out how to fix this particular story. 

I don’t actually know.  

J: That’s a great observation. I’ve abandoned projects for that reason. At some point before they got the publication, someone, an editor, a colleague, someone said you got really serious problems here. And then I just abandoned it.  

I did that with JD. The first project I sent him that he was going to mentor me on. He’s like, this has a lot of problems. You could rewrite it, but I just, I don’t know.  

And I was like I’m not, I don’t want to waste that time. For me, that was not about learning. That was about getting the best project to JD that I could, with the best chances I could have of snagging an agent with it. 

So in that case, I was like, so what if that’s a whole novel? So what if I paid to have it edited? So what if it was ready to publish? If it’s not gonna work, I’m just going to set it aside. And I did a completely different thing.  

But as you said, if you’re like, I don’t understand why I need these structural changes, or if you were blindsided by the editor’s comments and you thought it worked, and then you see the comments and you’re like, wow, they’re right. This doesn’t work. In that case, it might be worth trying to fix it, just to learn where you went wrong or learn how you made that mistake so that you don’t do it in the next project.  

Crys: If you got those responses from an editor and you thought they were dead wrong, and let’s assume you’re not a beginning writer, this isn’t your first book and we’re not dealing with the Dunning Kruger effect of the people who know the least think they know the most. Like you’re, you’ve got a few books under your belt, so you’ve got an idea of what’s right and wrong and what works and what doesn’t. And you got that response from an editor. 

If you weren’t sure. Or even if you’re like, they’re dead wrong, what do you think is the best response for an author who is growth minded?  

J: Yeah, I keep saying it depends, but it depends on my relationship with the editor. If it’s an editor who I feel doesn’t know me or my writing that well, or doesn’t know the genre very well, I might question it, but if it’s an editor who I’ve worked with or who knows the genre, I’m listening to that. 

And overall, I don’t tend to disagree. I tend to make almost all the changes suggested by my editor. But most of those are more superficial. If there were like major structural problems and an editor is pointing them out that’s a big red flag to me. I might want to curl up into a ball and be like, no, it’s fine. 

But I would probably have to do something about that. I don’t think I could just say I disagree in and push on.  

Crys: Yeah. I think that if I vehemently disagree I would definitely have to run it by a few other sources that I trust to give me real talk just to make sure I’m not being stubborn and blind. 

Definitely the same if I wasn’t certain, then I would definitely have to do that. If I was dead certain I’d probably still do that just to make sure.  

J: Yeah, that’s a great point. And I wouldn’t like if this person is hopefully is going to listen to this episode I wouldn’t tell anyone else what that editors problems were with the manuscript.  

Crys: No, you don’t want put it in their head.  

J: I would just say read this. I would say, read this at the highest altitude. I don’t care about the grammar or the prose or the tone. I need to know about like major plot issues. Are there any major plot issues or problems here? And I leave it at that and then see what they come back with. And you’re right, if other people come back and they see similar things and you have your answer.  

Crys: Yeah. I agree with that. Oh, I hope that I never get this response from an editor. Let’s just say that.  

It’s just a growth thing. I say that because I’m fearful and I’ve actually never had a novel developmentally edited. I’ve never done that.  

Because with the romance, we push it out fast. We get it line edited, copy, edited, and then published. And I definitely have some some worries about that, even though I’m like, yeah, like I want everything to be the best it can be. We all still have insecurities that we need to train ourselves to work through because they’re going to come up every time and they might feel less painful, but they’re going to come up and it’s just part of the process. 

J: Yeah. I think I know, but I don’t know for certain, but, and this is not a shot at pantsers, but this is the reality of pantsing, too. If, and I’m not calling it discovery writing, sorry. That’s not what it is. It’s flying by the seat of your pants. I’m a discovery writer, too. I just do it in the outline.  

But if you are panting like this. This is a risk you take. Like I said, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with pants thing, but I think even pants there’s no, like this is a risk that you have to accept that you’re taking. J D has been very public about saying that, he had to with Patterson project, he to throw away 30,000 words. 

I know he’s had to rewrite manuscripts. If you have an outline or if you have something ahead of time that you can vet and you can have an editor look at that outline, you’re far less likely of finding yourself in a situation where you have a story that doesn’t work, but if you pass it and that’s the risk you take. 

And at the end, you might have a story that doesn’t work.  

Crys: Very true. On that delightful note. 

 My question for our listeners this week is have you trashed… Or rewritten, I shouldn’t say trash because that’s not actually what we’re talking about. That’s what it feels like to me when I feel like I have to throw away a whole bunch of words and that’s not actually what it is, but have you had to go back to the drawing board after first draft and do significant work on your manuscript? 

And if so, what was that process like for you?  

J: Good question.  

Crys: Thank you so much for joining us this week. If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Success Mastermind is all about.

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