Is it time for you to let go of your project?
We’ve all heard the phrase “kill your darlings” when it comes to writing, mainly editing. The phrase has been attributed to William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, among others. Most of those using the words are likely referencing Stephen King’s book On Writing.
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
There are a lot of articles in the world about this idea of how to “kill your darlings,” how to rip apart the piece of writing you’ve poured your heart into during the editing process. But what about the bigger idea? When is it time to kill an idea entirely?
Does the idea hold up?
There are many conversations in society these days about whether or not a film “ages” well or if it’s appropriate for writers to put together stories that are not their own demographic. Writers can put together whatever script they want, but like it or not, when you put a story into the public domain, they get to ask these questions, and ignoring them doesn’t mean they don’t apply to you.
If you’ve been working on a script for years, as many writers do, you may need a “sensitivity read” for any plots or themes involving gender, race, sexuality, etc., and the response may not be one that you like. It may simply be that you set the idea aside until you gain more perspective, or maybe you find a writer to work on the script with you. You might also never touch the script again, and that’s okay too! It’s never about one idea that makes a career. It’s about the well that you can consistently go to for more.
How many reads have you had?
How many rounds of reads have you given your script? Are you getting conflicting advice that’s sending you in a million different directions? Or have you moved beyond notes readings and have burned all your close contacts for this script.
If you’ve given your script to everyone you know (whose opinion you trust) and are still hitting a wall, you likely need a break for a bit. But if you’ve been telling everyone you know about this single idea for years, maybe even having sent the script to contacts thinking that it’s ready but it’s getting rejected, then it’s likely time to bench this script.
There may come a time when that script fits into the “next big trend,” and the people who passed before remember reading it. You have it ready and waiting in that drawer at home! It can still see the light of day without stopping you from moving onto the next great script.
What are you procrastinating?
Sometimes, if you’re hitting a wall in your writing, you can work on something to get your juices flowing again. But it’s a fine line between getting your energy up and distracting yourself endlessly.
The risk is that this new project will hit a wall of its own, and then you’ll have to find another script to get you excited, only for the cycle to continue, ending with a pile of unfinished scripts. Don’t fall into this trap!
Are you still excited?
If you’re in the cycle above, consider asking yourself why did you fall in love with this story in the first place?
Go to your early notes and see if they spark anything. Try going back to the basics and looking at the tentpole “commercial” moments that would excite a viewer. Explore every pathway you can. However, if it’s keeping you from moving onto another script, consider dropping this one.
Who is the story for?
Being a writer can seem a little bit like you’re “playing God.” You create entire worlds, characters, the rules, and decide what everyone spends all their time doing. The result is essentially a manipulation, trying to convince an audience to agree with whatever message you convey through your theme. It’s a very ego-centric way to look at things.
The truth is, writing is a humbling experience. Not because it breaks you down as you work through the story, but because the story is what is in charge, not you. You might be the one to bring it to life, but it also might be someone else. How many times have you heard yourself or another writer say, “I have a great idea… I know there’s an audience for it!” They’re right when they declare that passion. If they mean it, though, then the most important thing is that the story is told, not the person who tells it because it’s for the world to see it.
So maybe you set the story aside. The world may not be ready for it, and you can always come back to it if you want. There’s a chance, though, that it’s not your story to tell, and if you believe in the story, then step back from writing and wait for the route for that story was meant to take.
Enter Launch Pad’s TV Pilot Screenwriting Competition! Final Deadline is May 7th.