Often as a writer you’re confronted with a choice between reworking a previous project that you set aside before completion, or starting from scratch with a new project. How do you decide which one to work on, particularly if your time is limited?
Part of that choice depends on how much effort you’ve put into the unfinished project. If you’ve devoted years of research into the historical background for a piece, and if you’ve already substantially drafted the work, I can see the rationale for not giving up on that project.
But to me the most important factor is whether the characters are speaking in your thoughts. A writer should be like Joan of Arc, hearing voices.
|Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage, Metropolitan Museum of Art|
Ultimately, you listen to the conversations and arguments that your characters are having in your thoughts, as odd as that may sound. A piece of writing is alive if you can hear the characters speaking and see them doing things. If that isn’t happening, no amount of research, background, or planning can rescue a piece of creative writing.
I would suggest not getting fixated on securing a return on investment for a previous project, unless that project is alive and talking. In fact, you might complete a new project that is vital and active more quickly than trying to resuscitate a work that you no longer have a feel for, even if it is partially complete or researched.
Not all literary projects get finished, even if you devote years to them. Even if you finish a manuscript, it sometimes doesn’t turn out the way you hoped, and it can’t be sent to an editor or a producer, or it doesn’t get the response you’d wished for. In those cases, the best thing to do is to cut your losses, and start with a new project.
The good news is, ideas for literary projects are not numbered. They’re like waves: there’s always a new one arriving on shore. Not all waves are perfect, but there isn’t a limit on how many occur in your lifetime.
Zack’s most recent book of poems, Irreverent Litanies
Zack’s most recent translation, Bérénice 1934–44: An Actress in Occupied Paris by Isabelle Stibbe
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How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
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Poetic Forms: Introduction; The Sonnet, The Sestina, The Ghazal, The Tanka, The Villanelle
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How to Be an American Writer
Writers and Collaboration
Types of Closure in Poetry