On Nothing Being Wasted

I was talking to a friend of mine online today about projects that grow legs and go places, and this got me thinking about projects I have worked on, and how many of them eventually went somewhere, or got recycled into things that did go somewhere, and so forth.

Some of them don’t, of course. There was a failed novel* of my teen years about the Apocalypse and a rhino named Peaches which died, due largely to co-authorship issues. There was “Conspiracy of Mammals,” although that’s a bad example because if I ever finished the bloody thing, I suspect I could have done something with it, even if it was just a doorstop, and anyway, it got me into doing webcomics, which is no small feat.

And then there were things that got folded into other things. There are innumerable drafts of terrible terrible story ideas from when I wanted to be a writer, the vast majority of which also died with my Amiga, but the fragments that remain are nothing one would want to subject oneself to (Can we say “wish fulfillment?” Sure we can…!) But even those gave me things that showed up later in weird ways–giant talking statues, for example, or the watercolorist who kept a water elemental servant to keep her paints wet. (Okay, that hasn’t been used anywhere yet, but I will someday, damnit.) Fragments of Gearworld. Stuff.

There was the RPG setting I worked on extensively back in said teen years, which in weird tidbits has come back time and again–ground sloth people and weasel people, crazy hyena gods, the House of Diamond–stuff that showed up in “Black Dogs,” stuff that showed up in “Digger” which started from vague ideas I had back when I was fifteen and paleontology crazy enough to think that ground sloth people was deeply cool. (And they ARE, damnit!) It, too, went nowhere, and no game was ever played in that setting, but in various highly altered forms, bits still come up.

There was that comic that my friend Mike wanted me to work on, which died before a page was ever laid out, but even that gave rise to Sadrao the dog-soldier and a few other disturbing characters.

The thing is, all these were projects that I spent a great deal of time and energy on at the time, and none of them were successful in the traditional sense, but I still feel the time and energy wasn’t wasted, because for years, I’ve been cannabilizing bits and pieces of them. It’s like you find a hole in your story or world or whatever, and you put out a hand and grope blindly through the pile of junk next to you, and eventually you find a peg that fits it. Sometimes, of course, you have to carve an entirely new peg, but a lot of times you’ve already got one that, with a little whittling, will come in handy. So even those projects that didn’t go anywhere themselves often provide materials for stuff later.

The other thing is the suprising success that a finished or mostly finished project can have without you being anywhere near it. They have lives of their own that go on. This is the bit that I’ve learned only recently. “Irrational Fears,” for example, was done for a year or so, I had chalked it up as a fun learning experience and a story that I was proud of, but then Modern Tales Longplay had an opening, and quite diffidently I suggested that maybe, if they didn’t, y’know, have a bunch of other submissions, and they really were desperate, and lo, Irrational Fears went up on Longplay, and who knows, maybe there’s other stuff in its future somewhere.

And then there was “Black Dogs” the novel I wrote some years back, which I never expected to do much of anything, and which–and there will be no details or names named, again, jinxing, fear of–looks like it may well get published at some point in the not-all-that-distant future. And I did not expect it to ever go anywhere–I’d chalked it up as a finished project that was fun and I was glad I’d done it, and went on to other things. But it was this big finished project just sitting there, and eventually it grew feet and went walking. And suddenly all those hours of sprawling on the couch with an ancient laptop hammering on the sticky key and fighting the dead left shift key were worth something more than just part of the backdrop of my life.

And “Digger” of course, which I was doing as more of the same webcomics lark, and which got picked up by Graphic Smash about six months later. And which is now going to print soon.

I don’t know if I have a point to all this, and it’s turning into kind of an enumeration of Stuff I Have Worked On, which can’t be all that interesting to anybody but me. I probably don’t. But I guess what I’m getting at is that some of these projects that I worked on, that I didn’t have to do, and certainly wasn’t getting paid to do, and did just because it seemed neat, eventually went places. And a lot of the ones that didn’t go anywhere, that I worked just as hard, or harder on, god knows, also went into the ones that went places. For years, mind you, they didn’t go anywhere, and I should probably have gotten discouraged, but fortunately my attention span for despair’s not that great. And then eventually one did, and once that one went, some of the older ones got a fresh look, and some of them went places too.

So what this gives me–and hopefully any of my readers who have the same tendency to start weird projects, and I know that’s rather a lot of you–is hope. If I get the idea for a grandiose project, I might as well try it, because eventually, if I can get enough of it together to resemble a cohesive whole, it may go somewhere. And if it doesn’t, whatever I cook up will almost certainly go into something else, and THAT may go somewhere. It doesn’t matter what it is. Story, comic, setting, collection of photographs of surprising phallic rock formations (you KNOW there’s a coffee table book in that somewhere.) Time and effort invested into something is rarely wasted, even if it takes a long time for it to come around. Because it’s like…once you have this…err…hunk of…work…it really is worth something beyond a mere fun diversion.

That’s all.

*It no longer exists, the last file having slipped gently into that good night with my elderly Amiga

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