Another busy week — much work on MeTal, on Always Outnumbered, etc. Still reeling from one horror after another — the Nice massacre, the failed Turkish military coup (another case of there being no real good guys on either side here). Let me turn my attention instead to an old creative dilemma: When do you stop entertaining an idea for a creative project, and just cut your losses.
More details: If you keep an idea kicking around too long in your head, doesn't it run the risk of becoming one of those bewhiskered old things that is more a remnant of a person you once were and are no longer, and not something you can do justice to now as you are?
The most blatant example comes from near me. A friend of mine worked for literally decades on a story that he first devised in his early teens. Every time a new iteration of it came up, it had some new wrinkle on it, but it was at core the same basic story, and that same basic story was the sort of thing a person in their early teens would come up with. That didn't make it a bad story; that made it one limited by its origins. It wasn't something he could figure out how to evolve past its roots, and it stagnated.
The opposite of this is when you find a way to take something that's always been with you and make it relevant in the light of who you are now. I have had an idea kicking around in my head for some twenty-odd years, one that I started working on when I was much younger but subsequently abandoned because I didn't have the chops then to make it work. Not long ago, I wrote down some notes towards a revised version of the project, and the main thing I noticed was how the characters and their needs were still the same, but the circumstances and the expressions of those needs were different. They were more in tune with how I saw things now. I might come back to this project after the current one is off the plate.
Another thing I think helps is the Richard Feynman approach to problem solving. If you keep a story idea in your head for a long time, but are constantly freshening it and testing it against what else is going on in your life, it doesn't remain an artifact of the person you once were. The trick, then, is to keep whatever the idea is a living thing. If you keep trying to do justice to it in some immutable form, it'll never have a chance to become anything in the first place.