My TBR (To Be Read) shelf overfloweth. That’s nothing usual for any writer or bibliophile. But my TBF (To Be Finished) shelf overfloweth as well.
So why do stories sit on the shelf? Why would a writer put them there in the first place?
The first reason is the most common. Sometimes, a story just isn’t marketable. This absolutely does not mean it should not have been written. Some stories are destined to never see the light of day, but they hold great value in other ways. Simple experience and practice for the writer is one. Stories may have a good core, ready to be later revised and rewritten. Stories may be cannibalized, with scenes and characters being used in other stories. A story may be a writer’s self-introduction to a world, including the info-dump and nitty-gritty details that shouldn’t be included in the book that is marketed to the public. Charity’s story, in the Kingdom Come series is this for me.
Some writers (myself included) need to put a rough draft on the shelf for a while before looking at it again. For a short story, I might let it sit for a day. For a novel, it usually sits for at least a couple of months. For the duology of The Jubilation of the Southern Cross and Hearthsong, it’s been just over a year.
A story may go on the shelf simply because other things take precedence. Sometimes, it’s what we call ‘real life demands’ as in family, the day job, and other non-writing commitments. Sometimes, other writing takes precedence either because the writer has a marketable opportunity with another work, or simply because the writer personally wants to work on something different for a while. With the aforementioned duology, I first had a dayjob commitment that kept me from getting back to it, and then I had a contract for a different series that took precedence.
When a story is part of a planned series, it may need to sit on the shelf while an overall story-arc is worked out, or while background details that affect the entire series are decided on. With the Pangalactic Sojourners, one important detail is the legality of same-sex marriage from state to state. When I started writing these stories, only a few states had legalized gay marriage. Over the last year, the map has snowballed until almost the entire nation is a rainbow. If I set my stories sometime in the last few years, then I’ll need to include this snowballing as important events that occur during the time of the story. If I leave the stories on the shelf for a year or more, and then set them in 2015 or 2016, then I’ll be starting with most of the map already rainbowed and there will probably be fewer momentously newsworthy events to incorporate into the stories.
Of course, some stories go on the shelf just because there’s no inspiration to finish them. Maybe the author grew disenchanted with the characters, or there was something about the plot that simply wasn’t working. However, as I said above this absolutely does not mean it should not have been written. Every story has value. Even awful ones. Sometimes you need to get the awful stories out in order to make room for the good ones. I did that this weekend with a little story about a genie in a neti pot.
The ROW80 Goals this week:
Some writing, some revising, but nothing being promoted at the moment. I sent a short to a critique partner a few hours ago, which is very productive. I’m working on a couple of projects that have very real possibilities in the near future, which is, of course, why those projects are on the plate and not the shelf.
Er… ROW80 is supposed to be measurable goals. I think I need to keep closer track of what I’m doing. Buttocks in chair and fingers on keyboard is happening, but it’s mixed with personal stuff and those hours are hard to count. I finished and revised a short story, and wrote a couple pieces of flash. I polished up a couple of documents to make them submission-ready. Next on the plate is transcribing a hand-written short, then plotting and planning a SciFi novella using my Incorporeum characters.
SO! Have you ever taken something off the shelf and discovered a hidden gem?