Going Back to Unfinished Stories

Sunday, January 26, 2020

For the second time this past month or two, I have found half-finished stories and finished writing them. It's an odd thing to do, especially because I would normally tell you that's an impossible task for me. Most of the time, I read through a piece of unfinished writing and think to myself, "Oh if only I had the stamina to finish it..."

This time I did though. I wondered why I succeeded this time. What made this time so different?

In one of the stories, I started writing after my favorite part. In fact, the scene I kept was the only thing I liked about the story. In addition, for both stories, I ended up taking them in unexpected directions. One was supposed to be a work woe story (which I tire of writing now) and I ended up taking it in a futuristic direction. The other one was weird to begin with, but I ended up taking it in a far more hopeful direction than I first intended.

I think that's why it worked. Another reason I think this worked is that both stories had been written over 5 years ago. I was far more removed from the stories so I had a fresh perspective. I don't think I would be able to take a fresh look at a story written even 6 months ago.

So, after these two successful completed stories, I'm excited to pour over old notebooks and find hidden gems. If you are aiming to take on a half-finished story, I would recommend the following advice:

- Only keep the scenes you like.
- Take it in a totally different direction than you intended.
- Write fast. (I feel like self-doubt creeps in a lot faster when it's a story you didn't finish once before.)
- Make sure you really like it. (Don't finish the story out of guilt for not finishing it. Finish the story because you know you love something about it.)

Have you gone back and finished a story that was half-completed? How did that work out for you?


Sue Bradford Edwards said...

When I have tried to do this, I admit that it is weeks or months later.

Your post makes me think that I should look for those long lost gems. With this much distance from them, I will have a much better chance of taking them to final.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Nicole, your post is giving me ideas. :) I used to write short fiction when I started writing but never submitted them anywhere. I workshopped them on Zoetrope, then I got too busy to revise them and ended up getting writer's block. That was 15 years ago. I still have them somewhere and wonder what revising those would look like! They were all around the 3-4k range, have some dramatic twist, and are written in every genre, mostly speculative, horror, sci-fi. It's so different from what I write now, but it would be fun to revise since I actually love revising now.

I'm glad you're finishing your old stories, and I hope you keep submitting!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--I admit I have not--not finished a story that was THAT far removed. After close to a year's break, I finished my Tulsa story.

I have gone back to shorter pieces (800-1,200 words) and finished them, and having the break in time was beneficial.

You're definitely right. You have to only work on dusty projects that you like. Otherwise, it won't do any good.

(More finished pieces = more things to submit. Good luck! Since you're a Butt-Kicker, I know you'll be successful.)

Renee Roberson said...

Great job on breathing new life into those stories! I agree that our perspective can change over time, which leaves us new opportunities to mold and shape the old material. Now you've inspired me to go back and look at some of my unfinished and unpolished stories and see if there's any way I can salvage some of them. Yay!

Cathy C. Hall said...

I go back to old stories all the time but I admit I have few stories I don't finish.

I mean, they might stink, but I finish 'em. And if I come across something unfinished, it's usually just notes or a first page of a would-be novel. When I come across those snippets, sometimes I keep, thinking I'll get to 'em one day. But usually I toss because I read it and know IMMEDIATELY why I quit on it. :-)

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