Somewhere around six years ago, I had a story idea pop into my head. As most writers will tell you, that’s not exactly an unusual occurrence. Story ideas fly into (and often out of) my mind like flights landing at Kennedy Airport. But this idea felt . . . special. It had that x-factor sparkle that demanded, Write me! Write me now! So I did. And the book just . . . totally. did. not. work. I tried it in first person, I tried it in third person with multiple narrators. I tried a myriad configurations of the plot, and all told probably re-wrote the story ten times. I finally hammered out a semi-workable draft that I was semi-happy with, and at least worked better than anything else that had gone before.
Now, don’t get me wrong, within that draft were elements that I really liked. I loved my two main characters. There were scenes that made (and still make) me smile. Even my agent liked it, so at least I knew I wasn’t entirely fooling myself that there was something there. But it was the start of what I intended to be a series, and when I tried to move on to write book #2, again, it just. did. not. work. The foundation I’d slogged through to build in book #1 just became a pure slog when I tried to advance into a continuation of the story. 4 years ago, almost to this day, actually, I finally quit. Closed the file, opened up a new one, and started an entirely different book in what turned out to be an 11 book series (that’s not published under this pen name). Suffice it to say, I had absolutely zero regrets about quitting on what I now thought of as my Impossible Book Idea.
And yet . . . there was something about that idea, those characters and their world that refused to entirely let me go. After writing my 11 book series, I jumped into working on a collaborative series with my dad, and that one (actually published under this pen name) has been equally great. But in the down time between drafts on those books, I suddenly had an idea of how I could resurrect the Impossible Book Idea and change things up so that it would (maybe) work. I tried. It did work . . . better, anyway. I got a draft of a new book 1 written that I was pretty happy with. Then it came time to start on book #2, and I felt like I was in an author’s version of Groundhog Day, because it was the exact same deal as with the first go-round of The Impossible Book. Book 1: characters and scenes that made me smile. Book 2: utter slog.
I quit. Again! This time, I was pretty sure I wasn’t ever going to go back. Writing is my vocation, my passion, my dream job . . . but it’s also a business and the way I support my family, and there’s only so much precious time I’m willing to devote to an idea that never seems to go anywhere. I still loved my two main characters and elements of their story. But at this point, I’d made peace with the fact that it just wasn’t a story I was going to ever tell. I walked away, started on a new series. And then suddenly, like lightening, an inspiration for The Impossible Book Idea hit me.
Now, at this point, I was wary. I’d seen this movie before. Been there done that, gotten the I Quit on the Impossible Book t-shirt. I pretty much resisted even thinking about opening the Impossible Book file with everything I had. But it just wouldn’t let me go. It got louder and louder and louder in my mind until I literally had no choice but to give this new incarnation a try. And you know what? The story is working. Really working this time, not just reluctantly allowing itself to be dragged and squashed and hammered into semi-workable form. It’s real, it’s solid in a way that it’s never been before. I’ve changed the time period completely, I’ve changed huge swaths of my main characters’ backstories, and I’ve cut 90% of the secondary characters and entirely overhauled the plot.
So is it even still the Impossible Book Idea? Not really. Maybe. Sort of. It’s nothing like the idea that first popped into my head 6 years ago, that’s for sure. And yet my main characters at heart– who they really are, apart from their backstories– is much the same. Because when it came right down to it, that was always the element that was refusing to let me go: the core of who those two main characters were, and their journey towards each other.
I tell this story for two reasons: first, to let you know that if you have a story idea that just. will. not. work. . . it’s okay to walk away. It’s okay to close the file in mid-draft and let yourself start something new. It’s okay to never come back. But it’s also okay to hold out a little bit of hope even in the midst of walking away, because if it’s truly a story that you’re meant to tell, then it won’t let you go. One day, when you least expect it, The Impossible Book may suddenly turn possible after all.
What about you? Have you struggled with an impossible book? Have you had a story idea that just refused to let you go?