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Sunk Cost Fallacy, or Why My NaNoWriMo 2017 Plans Are Up In The Air

On my hard drive sits a novel-length manuscript. I wrote the rough draft about four years ago, and subsequently revised, polished, rewrote half of it from scratch, revised and polished yet again, and let it sit while I decided where to take it.

This novel had some similarities to a very popular show on a global video streaming site. I thought I could use that show as a comparable, or comp for short. (Comps are used in pitches to editors and agents: they demonstrate that a story is enough like a successful work that it can be sold.) I would need to differentiate my work from this show, since there were some uncanny similarities, but that could be done through incremental revisions.

However, a new season of this famous show just dropped.

Now there aren’t just similarities; at this point my novel is practically plagiarism. I can’t just “remove the serial numbers,” as the saying goes. To sell this novel, I’d need to rewrite the entire thing from scratch, keeping just a couple plot devices from the original.

I don’t have an outline for an entirely new story reusing the elements that work. I wasn’t expecting my novel, when I started it years ago, to wind up with the same plot as a show that millions of people have already seen.

And to be frank, the show did it way better.

As it so happens, I do have a backup plan for NaNoWriMo.

I’ve been brainstorming a story that I’d describe as “Doctor Who meets Still Alice,” born out of my frustrated fandom and a desire for stories about the aging process. I have two-thirds of a rough outline. I could probably break the story (“breaking” here means plotting everything out) in a few days. It’s compact and self-contained, good qualities for a NaNoWriMo project.

If I’m going to write a novel-length manuscript, I’d rather write a new one than retread over old ground.

Altars and Acolytes is dead at this point. I’ll reuse the Altars, and probably Rashmatash too, in other stories. But everything else — the setting, the characters, the plot — isn’t usable. The time writing the novel wasn’t wasted, since I was improving my craft, but I can’t get it back, and I won’t be able to sell the book even close to how it is right now.

I don’t know if I’ll finish NaNoWriMo this year. I’m planning this far later than usual, with only last year’s efforts (started a few days into November) being a later start than this. But maybe this one will shine. After all, stranger things have happened.