I have several stories on hold because either I am not able to post them at the time, or they are incomplete and do not plan to finish them anytime soon. When it comes to the second scenario, what do I do with the story? Do I just leave it rotting in my google docs folder for a month or two, or do I look for inspiration and continue writing?
I think that it usually boils down to these three scenarios:
At times, you simply get irritated and fed up. You reach a point in your story that you've only really thought out in broad strokes, but when you sit down to it and need to write out all the nitty-gritty, it just doesn't work out. I don't think letting something (as you so put it) "rot" for a month or two is necessarily a bad thing. Go do something else. Inspiration is like a tax refund - you never know when it's going to come.
Then there are those times when you reach a "transitional period" of a story, namely when one event transpires to another. Such a "transitional period" is necessary, as otherwise your story wouldn't make sense, but writing it out is simply boring. There are devices for avoiding such transitional periods, but speaking in generalities is anything but helpful (i.e. in general, avoid transition periods, but in other times, it just won't work). In this case, my advice is to leave a page blank and move onto a more exciting bit. Don't allow a part of a story you have already structured in your head to allow you from progressing.
And then there are those stories when something just doesn't work out. Perhaps I should put on my Captain Obvious hat, but yes, at times you reach a point in a story which you freeze on. Sometimes, it's because an idea that seemed decent in theory turned out to be anything but in practice. Other times, you wrote your heart out only to find more darkness at the end of the tunnel. Above all, don't waste good ideas. Either rethink your story: trim a character or add a new one, write more build up for a climactic event, etc. Or scrap it, start fresh, but recycle everything that worked. The machine may have not moved, but that doesn't mean a gear or two was well-placed.
If the story is so boring for you that you can't get yourself to finish writing it, chance is more than good the story will be too boring for the reader to finish reading it.
Drop it, scrap it, or at best rework it into something completely different, possibly trimming it into a short open-ended story or reusing best parts as fragments of a different work. Regardless, in current form, it's dead. Trying to force yourself to finish it in current form won't result in anything remotely good.
In my little experience, there are two ways to overcome that impasse.
- The flow. You just write without thinking, just write whatever comes to mind, force yourself to fill the page, and the page after. This helps to unblock. Once you have put black on white, it's easier to go back and rewrite or edit. But setting the needle to "0% thinking / 100% writing" is a good way to go.
- Wait and forget. You just let your subject rest and forget about it, work on other things or other projects. Then you go back to that original thought after some time (a couple of months maybe). You might find new ways to look at it. Sometimes things surprise me, and I find inspiration for a subject after many years that idea came to my mind.
You need to identify exactly what it is about the story that's boring you, and address that issue.
Are you bored of your characters? Then switch perspective. Write the next section from the perspective of a new character, or an existing minor character. Figure out what other individual stories might be happening at the same time as what you've written so far.
Have you reached a stage of the story that feels pedestrian? Do you feel like you're slogging through a dull bit in order to get to the good stuff? Then skip ahead, write the good stuff now, and later on you'll figure out how to fill in the gap. Bear in mind that if it's boring for you to write, it's going to be boring for your readers to read, so you're going to need to figure out a way of communicating essential information in the least tedious way possible.
Do you not know what to do next? Do you feel like you're standing on the edge of a precipice, looking out at a sea of possibilities, uncertain where to take things? If so, then you know what, end the story here. Deciding what happens next is left as an exercise to the reader.
I don't believe in scraping a story just because you lose interest in it. A lot of people are going to advise you to get all that's in your head, regardless of quality, on paper. This is a viable strategy but there will come a time even when that won't work. My advice is to give your incomplete works time and revisit them some other time. If you still can't make sense of what you're after it probably will be better safely saved in your cloud.
To answer your question "Do I just leave it rotting in my google docs folder for a month or two, or do I look for inspiration and continue writing?":
I would walk away from it for a while, do something else (other than writing) and let your unconscious work on it (so to speak). I have found that, with time, I either find myself back at my desk continuing the story or I just move on to another project. There is no "time period" (a month or two) that I can suggest.
My experience has been that "forcing" it will tend to hinder your creativity.
One other suggestion: I often start reading (as opposed to writing) during these periods and will often get a "spark" from something I've read.
I think something needs to be said that is often overlooked, possibly even feared and so it is rarely uttered.
What in your story is making you lose interest?
Think back to when you were last really engaged with the narrative and work forward. I guarantee you, if there is a part of the story you are losing interest in... you will be losing your reader as well. Likely not on the same scale, but it will happen. While your disinterest might span a few weeks and theirs only moments... a moment is all it takes to break immersion and remind them that they are in fact, not running for their life. They are on a busy, smelly train and it's late and they're hungry and now your story is just some person writing about things. You can't afford to lose the reader.
Often times stories die in the valleys, the quiet middle bits where you are diligently building sub plots, fleshing out characters, and all the million and one things you must be conscious of.
Watch the Coen brother's movie Burn After Reading, or at least a few scenes. They build tension in those middle bits simply with music. High thriller tension music all the time and for things like getting a paper. It's nonsensical but you don't even notice it at first and you wonder what the hell the big deal is about getting a paper. Then you realize that the coen brothers are keeping you on the edge in the extremely mundane parts so that their major events can be played any way at all and it will be a tension release. Stick and the carrot.
If part of your story is boring or tedious to write... it will be boring and tedious to read. Now that's not saying everything needs to be high drama and action. Instead use that time to weave subplots. Raise questions and suspicions. Mess with the playbook. Call and audible and see where it goes. Which characters know what and what is their role in all this. Be hitchcockian. Keep people in the dark, but show them the footprint. It's good practice in writing by the seat of your pants, you don't even know what this character is doing but you know it can't be good.
Steven Pressfield is very good at this. The Hot Gates was a perfect example of a narrative that started and simply didn't let you take your eyes off the page.
Even if dropping it for a while is just 'your process' try to analyze if there was something you could do to not let the pressure up (there is ALWAYS pressure.) Think of lateral ways you could have jumped into say backstory, or a particularly revealing scene about character that no one is expecting. Bam now you have deep motive running underneath and not just a sub plot. I'm pretty sure i've read easily upwards of 6-7,000 books. There are some from when I was young that I still remember vividly, entire scenes even. They varied from stories about hunting dogs to kid detectives and secret Nazi missions on D-Day. They all have one thing in common (I went back and checked)
They stay in motion.
Just like a shark will die if it stops moving... So too dies your story, There will of course be exceptions as per human individuality... but don't think of it as something to prove wrong. Think of it as a challenge to get our of your comfort zone. Give yourself a healthy dose of army inspiration.
Must not be very good if even you don't want to read it.
Be tough on yourself, everyone else will be. Readers are often ruthless. They don't owe your book anything. In fact you owe them for the money they paid. This advice was articulated in a much better way I'm sure by a number of my professors over the years. It has helped me immensely and as a result I don't stop writing because i can't stay interested. I have to stop writing/reading because knowing what I know is like being the only one in the room who has seen the Game of Thrones episode coming on. I CAN'T WRITE ANY FASTER AND IT'S KILLING ME. It took some getting used to and some rather frank conversations with myself about what is in the story... and what should be in the story... but it works, even as just an exercise to get warmed up or to try and keep your current roll going.
Another tool for the toolbox. Good luck and remember...