Many of my clients, at some point, realize that they need to let go of their current project. Not just to stop working on it for a while, but to truly move on to something new that suits them better.
When it comes to letting go and moving on, I have found that writers and writing teachers tend to espouse one of two main ideas:
- Never, never, never give up.
- If you’re not getting good feedback, or the marketplace has changed, or you’re just not that into the idea anymore… give up.
While there’s an important truth in both perspectives, I don’t think either is quite right.
When To Let A Project Go
It’s important to persist in the face of adversity, but I believe that creativity benefits from having the ability to “yield” and shift gears.
It’s also important to pay attention to your progress and the marketplace, but I don’t think creativity is served by allowing other people and external forces to dictate what you do.
I believe that the reason to let something go and move on to something new is because you have learned why the project isn’t right for you anymore.
Is The Project In the Right Genre For The Next Phase Of Your Career?
Remember, the best time to sell your second project is right after you sell your first project—and the best time to sell your third project is right after you sell your second.
- Agents and managers like to see that a writer has a lot of material in the same genre. It means that writer is an expert and therefore the kind of person that executives want to hire.
- Once you break in, you should plan on working in the same genre for at least a few years.
Ask yourself: Do you like the genre of your current project enough to develop and write several more projects in the same genre?
Is The Theme Something You Believe In?
The importance of theme—and how it is the driving force behind a story—is something I learned from Blake Snyder:
In many ways a good screenplay is an argument posed by the screenwriter, the pros and cons of living a particular kind of life, or pursuing a particular goal. Is a behavior, dream, or goal worth it? Or is it false? What is more important, wealth or happiness? Who is greater in the overall scheme of things – the individual or the group? The screenplay is the argument laid out, either proving or disproving this statement, and looking at it, pro and con, from every angle.” (Save the Cat, 73-74)
If you’ve reached a point where the theme that is at the core of the project is no longer something you believe to be true, that can be a reason to let the project go.
Ask yourself: Do you believe that the core theme of the project is true, and is that truth meaningful to you?
Is The Core Idea Flawed In Some Way?
Sometimes, there’s a fatal flaw in your core concept that doesn’t reveal itself until late in the process.
What constitutes a fatal flaw? It is a problem that upends your script and can’t be resolved without essentially developing an entirely new concept.
It could be anything from discovering through historical research that your concept is grossly inaccurate to realizing that the protagonist you’ve created would never have the dramatic need the concept requires him or her to have. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if an obstacle you’re encountering is truly “fatal,” or if really you’re just stuck.
Ask yourself: Have you identified a specific fatal flaw in your concept?
Adapt To Feedback
If you are not getting traction with your material, don’t just “not give up” and keep sending it out. That’s an easy way to make an amateurish introduction of yourself to everyone in Hollywood.
Instead, figure out what’s going on, and fix what’s not working.
If you can’t figure out why you’re getting negative feedback, or you’re not sure how to proceed to fix the problems you’ve identified, design an incubation process to allow your unconscious mind to generate solutions.
Ask yourself: What is the pattern in the feedback you’re getting, and how can you adapt accordingly?
When You’ve Learned What You Need To Know, It Can Make Sense To Let The Project Go
When you’re stuck on a project or it isn’t getting much traction, it’s easy to lose enthusiasm.
But we all know that sometimes things look darkest before the dawn, and there are plenty of examples of people succeeding with projects that seemed doomed.
That’s why I believe you should only stop working on something once you have learned why the project isn’t right for you anymore.
This way, if you do have to abandon a project, you have at least learned a lesson about yourself or your craft that you couldn’t have any other way.
And that can be incredibly valuable.
Ask yourself: Have you learned why this project can’t work–and are you ready to move on to something new?
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