The Problem WIP: Phoenix or Pyre?

Happy May Day, SEers! In a bit of happy kismet, it’s Mae with you today. 🙂

Let’s talk about the moldy old stories you have tucked away.

What do you do with the draft that refuses to settle into a niche? Resurrect it in a new form, or toss it onto the pyre of works that won’t ever see the light of day? Case in point: I’ve been nurturing a manuscript for over twenty years that has been through metamorphosis upon metamorphosis.

Blazing pyre on dark background

Back ‘in the day’ I wrote a novella called Herald of the Storm. Today, it would classify as urban fantasy. Back then, I viewed it as magical realism (though that line is still blurry to me). It had a seventeen-year-old lead character using magic to battle the forces of evil in a modern setting. Unfortunately, there was no such thing as young adult fiction and, unless you were Ray Bradbury, most readers didn’t sniff around magical realism.

No matter. I liked it enough to develop it into a full-fledged novel, adding secondary characters and a complex family history along with a generations-old curse and an unsolved murder. When all was said and done, I was left with a novel that wasn’t marketable. I tucked it away and forgot about it until, years later, I cleaned it up and slapped a new title on it—Elf-Shine. I should clarify, I hate that title. It didn’t matter though. There was still no market. Back in the drawer it went again, where it languished for many moons, collecting dust.

About ten years ago I dug it out and did an extensive rewrite. The lead character went from seventeen to twenty-three, I upped the magical element, cut some of the secondary threads and strengthened others. Now I had an urban fantasy, layered in mystery, with several POV characters. Hmm. Still problematic. Sense a pattern here? You guessed it…back in the drawer.

Last fall, I stumbled over it again. I gave it a quick look-see, realizing the markets have changed (exploded!) and new writing opportunities exist. I could go back to my original seventeen-year-old protagonist and market the manuscript as YA. I’m not sure I want to do that. I’m not a YA author and many of the more adult elements appeal to me. I’m starting  to realize this story has life—nine of them like a cat or, at the very least, the rebirth powers of a mythical bird. After all this time, Herald of the Storm has the potential of turning into a phoenix.

Mythical Phoenix with fiery wings and tail feathers on a black backgroundWhether I resurrect it in a new form, old form, or one in between, I’m thankful I hung on to it and didn’t toss it on the pyre. A few threads even wormed their way into my upcoming release Eventide, the closing chapter of my Hode’s Hill Series.

What do you do with drafts that refuse to submit to a niche? Many writers cross genres, but how willing are you to do straddle those boundaries in a single book? What do you do with a story and characters that refuse to fade away in favor of newer ideas?  Phoenix or pyre? Do you burn your ideas or allow them to be reborn in a new form.

Let’s chat in the comments below. Ready, set, go!

bio box for Mae Clair

43 thoughts on “The Problem WIP: Phoenix or Pyre?

  1. I have short stories that are sitting here on the pc and flashdrives as well as boxes. I also have novels languishing there. My first series–four books, I go back to from time to time. My second series-three books, I’m on another rewrite of. I may put it away again depending on what the editor I sent it to thinks. I do cannibalize books too, lol. These two series though, the first goes back to 1988 and the second to 2009 when I took up writing again. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s great to have those old works to look back on and possibly resurrect or reuse. The fact that you were writing series books way back in the 80s is commendable! I couldn’t even think as a series back then (well, except for epic fantasy). I first wrote Herald of the Storm in 1988, so that one has been hanging around for just over 30 years. Scary!

      I’m sending you best wishes for much success with the series you sent to an editor. Fingers crossed everything works out for you.
      Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts, Traci, It’s great to see you here!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think story ideas come to us for a reason. And, the old adage, “timing is everything,” seems apropos here. I hold on to everything – finished or unfinished – because I never know when they might take on a new life. Love this and can’t wait to read the long-awaited story once it is published!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Timing is everything is so true! And I love that you hold onto all of your work, finished or unfinished!
      I have a folder called “started stories” from way back in the day—bits and pieces of things I jotted down and never finished. Every now and then I take it out and sift through it to see where my head was. In those days I was focused on epic fantasy, but there are a few stray contemporary-odd bits in there that might someday become more.
      As for the long-awaited story, it’s 31 years old. Maybe I’ll get it published in another 30 years, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have two big plastic tubs stored under a bench in my basement full of manuscripts I wrote when I first got serious about writing. I can’t bring myself to throw them away, but they’re so awful, it would be harder to fix them than to write something new. So I just look at them occasionally and know they’re all the words I had to write before i got a little bit better. I liked saving them lots more than the mountain of rejections I saved when I was younger. I finally burned all of those:)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I used to save rejections, too, then finally tossed them. I cringe when I look at my old trunk novels, but you’re right—they’re part of the journey necessary to grow as a writer. There are always a lot of clumsy attempts before we attain a level of professionalism (although I know there’s always more learning ahead).

      Maybe there are a few good characters or plot threads in those manuscripts that will find their way into something new 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Happy May Day, Mae:) I hang on to most of my old writing. This Second Chance came from an old story. It changed and I lost parts of it over the years. I could never make it work until I finally did. These stories and characters sure have minds of their own. I hope this story is ready to reveal itself to you soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love that This Second Chance came from an old story. I think many of the early ideas we had as writers were good, but the execution was probably a bit clumsy. At least in my case it was, LOL.
      Maybe when I’m up in years, my problem story will finally settle into a niche that works for it AND me, LOL!

      Happy May Day!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. To what extent do you think the state of the market, rather than the quality of the novel, affects its likelihood of success? Did we have a fantasy boom after ‘Harry Potter’, for example, or was the book world simply swamped and unable to hold any more?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! I think the state of the market has a huge influence on whether or not a title will meet with success. When I wrote this novel, there was no such thing as young adult books. Although I write mystery and suspense now, there was also a time I wrote romantic novels. I remember sending a romance novel with strong paranormal elements to an agent decades ago. The agent replied in a letter that there was no market for a book that crossed genres of romance with paranormal. Thinking about that now is laughable—and yes, I still have that novel.

      They say to write what speaks to your heart, but sometimes there is no market for the stories that resonate with our muse!
      Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. I have a couple of trunk novels that don’t deserve to be resurrected. On the other hand, crossing genres seems to be in my wheelhouse. Playground has science fiction elements, but is a paranormal tale overall. Several of mine do things like that. I’m not the model of success here, but simply saying I’ve done it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many of your stories seem to straddle genres and I like that. You handle it well, and always in an entertaining manner–whether edgy and creepy, or laced with wonder and humor. When it comes to trunk novels, I often embrace the ideas and threads that went into the plot rather than an actual rewrite of the draft. I’m finding when I dip into that well, there is normally something worthwhile pulling out and resurrecting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It you ever decide to go back to MG writing, at least you’ll have a started draft. It does seem your muse is calling you to write adult fiction and we all know how hard it is to ignore our muses, LOL!

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  7. My “trunk” novels are more like “archive” novels. They languish in folders I forget I have either on my hard drive (where I seldom notice them) or worse, on the cloud (where I never see them). A few have stuck in my memory. I may revisit them someday, but I have so many more current projects on my calendar, I can’t imagine carving out the time to work on them.

    I kind of like Elf-Shine. Herald of the Storm sounds more like you, though. And I’d read either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, thanks. Honestly, much of it was pure dreck but I created an entire mythology for that book that someday may find it’s way into a new project. I pulled “Elf-Shine” from an old English term that referenced the light/glow that shone from enchanted objects. I can’t remember the English term of the top of my head, but I used it in the book.

      Most of my old stuff is on paper, but I do have a few folders like you that languish on my hard drive. And like you, I want to focus on new projects, but I do sometimes resurrect a thread from an old draft and weave it into a new project. As always, there just aren’t enough hours in the day/week/month/years for all the writing we would do if we could! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have some unfinished drafts, mostly short stories, but the beginning of one novel. It would fit in the genre I’m writing, so I might resurrect it one day. I’d have to change the premise because I used some of the elements in my upcoming release but I’m not so far along that I couldn’t do that. Sadly, I burned the first manuscript I wrote. I was seventeen and my characters were teenagers. Doubtful I’d ever do anything with it, but it would be nice to go back and read it sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Literally burned??? I’m guessing that wasn’t intentional!

      I kept my old work (things dating back to grade school) for the longest time, then finally parted ways with them a few years ago. Most of the old stuff I saved was from my 20s and up. Of all of them, the only one that has potential to be rewritten is a fantasy series I did, in which I finished 2.5 books of 3. I doubt I’ll ever devote time to it, but I’m hanging onto it, “just in case.”

      Like you, I’ve used some elements of older trunk novels in current work. Eventide is a good example. I think there are plenty of ideas to be had in our old work, it’s just perhaps the delivery wasn’t there in our early days. Looking back on those early attempts is good way to see how we’ve grown. I’m sorry you don’t have that first manuscript. I bet you’d enjoy looking over it again.

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      • It was intentional. I decided it wasn’t any good, so I took it out to the burn barrel and gave it a proper send off. LOL! I did use two minor characters in a short story published in AIW’s Christmas anthology from a couple of years back.

        Liked by 1 person

      • OMG, Joan. What a way to part with your work. When you make up your mind something isn’t any good, you really make up your mind, LOL.
        So in the case of this post, your book was definitely “pyre.” At least two of the characters made it into the “phoenix” realm. 🙂

        Like

  9. I don’t have drafts, but I have problem ideas. One of them is a superhero series that keeps missing something. I still go back to tinker and see if anything changes. Plenty of times I’ve come close to getting it where I want it too. Worst case scenario is that I cannibalize it when I need characters and concepts for other ideas.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cannibalize is such a great way of expressing it, Charles. That’s what I’ve done with earlier works too, cannibalizing some of the ideas from them to use in my more current stories.

      It does sound like the superhero series is one of those pesky ideas that just won’t go away (like my Herald of the Storm). I keep thinking someday everything will click into place. It sounds like you’ve come close with your ideas. Whatever comes from it, the concept is definitely worth hanging onto and watering when there’s a possibility for it to sprout new growth 🙂

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      • I’m actually deleting characters with some rough associations. That might help because it kind of eliminates a few storylines. I’m also learning that a large cast is hard to balance from the beginning. It might require a change in style such as short story collections.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I love the idea of a short story collections, especially if tied together with an overall theme (like superhero). That’s an excellent idea for handling a large cast!

        Like

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