That spark of a story. A character’s voice you can’t escape. Scenes that make you chuckle or tear up. Starting a new story can be one of the most exhilarating times for authors.
But what happens if those ideas fizzle out?
Sometimes deciding WHICH idea to develop is the hardest part of writing. How do you know which stories are the ones you should write?
There is a lot of advice across the internets from authors wiser than I about writing the story only you can write. Or following your instincts and writing the story that truly speaks to you. It’s the one your experiences and inspirations have led to and no one can write it quite like you can. I love this idea and know many authors who succeed by doing exactly this.
Unfortunately, I have to admit, it’s never really worked for me.
I started my first book around 2014-15. It was very much inspired by the friendship in Vampire Academy, but make it sci-fi with super powers. The kernel of the idea was "what if, for your college work study, you got assigned to assist the chosen one?" I adored the pitch so much, which I think is what truly helped me finish writing the whole story. I pitched it to agents but was told that it should be aged down so I shelved it.
The next book I started was about about witches in small town Louisiana. I wanted to write about complex family relationships and make it a Southern Veronica Mars but with magic. I was in love with the idea and thought it was definitely "the one." Fast forward to many months angst-ing over plot. I stopped writing at the 85% mark.
This was not the last time I would start a book with high hopes and not finish it.
When I was querying Wolves, I started a romance book to distract myself. I also didn't finish that one. (It was set at a golf course and even though I'm still fascinated by the idea, I've legit never stepped onto a golf course, soooo probably not my best plan. 😅)
By fall, I had an agent and we dove into Wolves revisions. In between revision rounds, I was determined to write my next big, amazing idea. I started a bunch of wild takes on some of my favorite video games. For one reason or another, most of them did not pan out through Act 1. It wasn't because of lack of inspiration or spark. I fall in madly in love with all of my ideas every single time.
After Wolves sold, I started a ridiculous take on Teenage Dracula in the midst of the pandemic. (My agent was wary, with good reason.) I also didn't finish that one. And in between drafts of Swift the Storm, Fierce the Flame, there was another video game based story I started that again only made it to the end of Act 1.
This is a very long way for me to explain that I start and stop lots of stories. All of which I absolutely love in the beginning. Even after I stop and revisit them later, I am still pulled to the main ideas but for whatever reason, I don't feel compelled to finish them. (I don’t analyze they ‘why’ too much, but it’s probably because one element or the main character is not quite right and I don’t know what to change to make it work.)
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because I feel like not enough authors talk about their failed books after they already have book deals. We all relish laughing about our early books and how bad or laughable the were. But I hear less about failed ideas that come once we’ve ‘made it’ as published authors.
And while my ideas might've failed in execution, I don't consider them failures. I was trying something. And what is learning if not trying? I like to think that every failed book, I learn new things about myself, about writing, about life. There are lessons there, even if I don’t see them.
In the end, writing is writing and so those many, many Act Ones have been great writing practice for me. So, if you're not sure if your current idea is "the one", don't stress too much about it. It might not be and that’s okay.
I am of the opinion that you should write every idea, every book, like it is going to be ‘the one’. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. But eventually you will find that special story that really sparks joy and keeps you writing beyond Act 1 all the way to “The End.”
A version of this story appeared in Wolves and Wonder, my monthly newsletter that includes no-nonsense writing advice along with book updates and sci-fi inspiration. Get it in your inbox; you'll love it.