How do you know when to give up on an idea and try something different?
When writing novels, I try out my ideas like new clothes. Just try them on for size. Some ideas are too small. Others are too loose and baggy. You need to find an idea that fits well, that will be comfortable for several years. In other words, you can’t just like the material, you have to love it.
When I was in graduate school I took a quilting class. The instructors said, “Pick your fabric carefully because you will be living with it for a long time.”
You need to think that way when you start writing a book.
I should say, however, that no idea is ever really lost. What I find is that even if I give up on one plan, my new plan will contain seeds of the old.
That’s what’s happening now. I’ve got a new plan, a better plan, and it wouldn’t have been possible without all the notes I wrote for the old one.
All this might sound a lot like trial and error–more like science than literature. The truth is that artists have quite a bit in common with scientists. We have our hypotheses, our experiments, our failures, and like scientists we do a lot of research to prepare for our moments of inspiration. It’s so much fun.