To Trunk, or Not To Trunk

Have you ever heard a writer refer to a “trunk book,” or even “trunking a book”? Although the exact definition seems to change depending on who you ask, the term usually describes a project an author has spent a good deal of time, effort, and often emotional energy on, only to decide–based on any number of reasons–that the book is no longer worth said effort and should be abandoned, for now or even for ever. A trunk book gathers dust (usually metaphorically, in the abyss of one’s hard drive rather than a physical trunk), out of sight and out of mind, hardly ever revisited and rarely revived.

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Now, don’t misunderstand me: a trunk book is not automatically a bad book. They certainly can be (one of mine is 100% a Very Bad Book) but they can also be genre books with a non-existent markets, or good books that didn’t survive querying or submission, or half-baked novels writers simply lost interest in partway through. In fact, I would even wager that most authors have at least one book they trunked and still think of fondly, perhaps dreaming of someday resurrecting it and giving it new life.

My current trunk book count is three (that’s not counting false starts or massive rewrites, which would push the number significantly higher). There is my very first completed novel, which I now know belongs hidden away in the dark and really doesn’t ever need to see the light of day under any circumstances. I actually still quite like my second book, a demon-hunting urban fantasy set in London, but sadly I trailed the market by about 2 years and no one wanted to touch it. The third–a paranormal science fiction (I just made up that genre) set in a city where dreams are forbidden–is very dear to me, especially since it got me into PitchWars and landed me my agent, but I’ve come to realize it would need an overhaul.

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Gods help me, I sold my fourth book. (Hashtag Amber & Dusk, go add it on Goodreads!)

And that catches us up to my current work-in-progress. The story is a loose, Celtic-inspired retelling of Swan Lake, told from the perspective of the “Black Swan.” This book has been difficult from the start, and has taken me waaayyyy longer than anything else I’ve ever written. I started it nearly a year and a half ago, as a distraction from the mind-curdling misery that is editor submission. (Let me tell you, the first few false starts were so angsty you’d think I was fifteen and listening to My Chemical Romance on repeat.) I passed my halfway mark last spring, but every word felt labored, every sentence a struggle. So when I got my revision letter for A&D, I was more than happy to put it aside until this fall.

At which point I opened it up and realized I needed to add a character and change the tense. (When am I going to learn to write in the appropriate tense from the start?) Oh, and no big deal, restructure everything.

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And now, after months of feeling blocked and struggling to get any words whatsoever, I’m finally close-ish to finishing. Like twenty thousand words until “The End.” Tops.

But…I’ll be honest. I’m this close to trunking this book. Even with that finish line in sight, I’ve been falling into the Orphean trap of looking backwards at the chapters I’ve already done. And I’ve completely lost perspective. One minute I’ll be marveling at a turn of phrase or good scene, and the next I’ll be absolutely certain the entire manuscript is a boring, self-indulgent, plot-less dumpster fire. At this point, the only thing preventing me from trunking this book is this irrational thought: “But I’ve never trunked a book I didn’t finish before.” 

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Truman Capote once remarked, on the topic of his last unfinished book he spent twenty years working on, “Either I’m going to kill it, or it’s going to kill me.” The unfinished draft of the novel was published posthumously.

So I guess what I’m saying is, maybe it’s time I trunk this book.

Do you have any trunk books gathering dust? When do you decide to abandon a project? Let me know in the comment section below!