I think it happens to all writers at least once (at least I hope so, because then I wouldn’t be alone) when they have a story idea that just stops working.
I know I’ve had this happen in a few different ways. Maybe the story starts out really well and the idea just kind of fizzles as you write, that first spark of awesome inspiration bleeding away like smoke dissipating on the wind as you lose focus, direction, or what you were really trying to say (if you even knew in the first place). Or maybe you’re cruising along, working on the story, and you get to a point in the narrative and you find that everything you’ve written up to that point has been crap, pure, unadulterated crap, or just stops interesting you.
When this happens what do you do?
You could forget the story idea and disavow all knowledge. Not the most productive of practices, sure, but it’s certainly an option. My friend L, who edits nearly every piece of fiction I write, has said I’ve made a few stories like this where she’s had to sit me down, pluck the story out of my hands, and light* it on fire for my own sake.
There’s the option of lowering your head, squaring your shoulders, and just soldiering on but I don’t know if I like this tactic. While a viable way to get through the mid-story doldrums a lot of authors talk about, that period where you’re convinced that your story is unlikeable, your writing uninspired, and your skill that of a three year-old using crayons on construction paper, I don’t think it really works for when the story is having serious, legitimate issues. For one, if the story idea is crap, forcing yourself to write will just result in more crap.
Then there’s also the matter of time. I know that when I have a story idea I’m really into, one that ends up being really strong, the writing comes easily; when the story is weaker or I’m not as enthusiastic about it, it takes longer to write because I’m fighting it. When this happens, it’s possible to waste a lot of time on a story whose only real use should be to start a camp fire instead of focusing on a story that might work better for you, that you could then complete and start sending out. I think if the story is that bad, and you’ve done work on it, you should really take the next option.
Finally, you can always file it away for later. Maybe the idea hadn’t finished being formed in your head and that’s why you were only able to write half of it or maybe you \need to think of a different way to approach the concept behind the story. Regardless, especially if you’ve already done a lot of work on it only to decide its current iteration is bunk, you can always file it away for later rather than wasting the time you’ve spent on it. I have a folder on my desktop containing half finished stories and story ideas. Occasionally, when at a loss for something to write, I’ll flip through the folder and see if any of the previous ideas tickle my interest to write. Sometimes everything in there is horrible and foul smelling and sometimes I decide to dust something off and give it another go.
In the end I think it’s an important skill to possess to be able to look at a project you’re working on and say “No, this just isn’t working” and knowing when it’s time to walk away and focus on something else. Doing that will make you more critical of your own work in an important fashion and will keep you from getting locked into a project that isn’t going anywhere, keeping you from continuing work elsewhere.
*Not really, but she has said that if she could, she would. Don’t get her started on stories involving midgets, it gets the muscle beneath her right eye twitching and it takes a while for it to stop.