Knowing when to say when

I've been avoiding blogging because I didn't want to be a downer. Writing has been a chore lately. I've been torturing myself with my new BBC-bound pilot, dragging myself to the computer at infrequent intervals, forcing myself to try work out the kinks, even though it just ain't working.

Which brings us to today's topic. How do you know when it's time to abandon a project?

I wish I could actually answer this question for you. It's not an easy one. Take, for example, my current pilot. I know I love the idea. I know the themes are solid, there's a lot of story there,the 'what is it' is clear and enticing, and I have the personal experience to give it that extra oomph. I'm still very committed to the idea, but, as my writer's group will attest, I just can't make it work. And the more I can't make it work, the less I want to think about it. And the less I want to think about it, the less I want to write, the less I want to be a writer.

Yeah, I guess should have said 'uncle' quite a while ago. I left it too long, let one project infect my soul until I almost wanted to give up trying to be a TV writer altogether.

On the other hand, I have a few friends (you know who you are) who hardly ever finish anything. I've read their 90% completed pilots and thought "Man, this is gonna be great when it's done!". I've told them as much. But I can think of at least 4 pilots of 4 great writers that are still only 90% done. Meanwhile, those writers have gone on to start other projects, sometimes lots of other projects, and left their cookies a little under-baked. And you just can't serve under-baked cookies to guests, the same way you can't show unfinished pilots to potential employers.

Plus, it's a lot easier to start a script than it is to finish one.

(Nostalgic aside: This makes me think of one of my favorite Buffy scenes where Buffy compares her relationship with Angel to baking cookies. The metaphor quickly turns a lot dirtier than Buffy intended. Man, I miss that show. Perhaps it's time for a rewatch, since the current season of television has encouraged me to read a lot of books.)

So where is that line between slightly under-baking your delicious cookies and recognizing that the batter is yucky and you ought to just…

This metaphor ain't working.

I wish I had a magic answer. Like, you must put in at least x number of hours before you decide to leave a project behind. But there isn't one. I guess the best way to know if you're an early-abandoner or a bash-it-until-it-bleeds-er is to look at your pile of finished scripts and compare it to your pile of ideas you've started writing.

Lots of nascent scripts and very few finished ones? You have earlyabandoneritis. Take some antiabandotics.

Do you just have one script you've been bashing away at now for, like, forever, and nothing in your finished pile? It's time to put that baby to bed and start something new. You can always pick it up again in a few months if you really want to.

(Incidentally, this story has a happy ending for me, this time at least. As soon as I trashed that one pilot and started a new one, I magically felt like writing again. And I got more done in a couple of hours than I've done on that other project in a couple of months. Sigh.)


Russell said...

wow, it must be the season.


Good posting!

Josh said...

Happened to us in our last class. We were trying to break stories for two features at the same time and one of them just wouldn't work, no matter how we kept reworking and reworking the story.

Finally class ended and we tossed it aside to concentrate on the story that was working -- and lo and behold, another idea occurred to us that worked from the word "go."

Of course, it's still on the to-do pile since we deemed it smarter to keep concentrating on the feature we're in the middle of writing, but it was amazing how quickly an idea that worked came to us as soon as we just tossed the troublesome one aside.

Mental spring cleaning, my friends.