5 Reasons To Abandon Your Novel

5 Reasons To Abandon Your Novel

In this post, we examine the top five reasons writers abandon or discard a novel before it gets to publication.

That Sinking Feeling …

In an interview with Esquire, for the launch of the thriller Billy Summers, Stephen King confessed he had a couple of unfinished books in his drawers that he just didn’t know how to go on with.

‘It’s a little bit like sailing a little boat across a broad ocean,’ he said. ‘There are big waves, and you’re always in danger of being swamped, particularly if you work like I do. I don’t have an outline. I just depend on the story to keep rolling ahead of me. I’ve had times when the boat sank.’

This master of storyteller is a bit of a panster. The drawback, as he admits, is that the boat can sink. King is not alone. Many famous authors, like John Updike and Jennifer Egan, have abandoned writing projects.

The problem is that we don’t see the abandoned, lost, incomplete or destroyed efforts.

We only see the shiny covers on the shelves that stock the bestsellers. We assume every plot arrives perfectly formed in their imagination to be perfectly put down on the page. We don’t see the struggles behind each novel. The failures are hidden.

When Is It OK To Abandon A Book?

First, as a caveat, most writers give up too soon. Sometimes out of frustration, most times because we’re intimidated by the amount of work it takes to finish a novel. It’s fair to say that you always give every story your best shot. Draft one is never going to be perfect.

However, when a plot is capsized by a tidal wave, or the characters in your book become mutinous, it’s time to call it a day.

5 Reasons To Abandon Your Novel

1. When Your Heart’s Just Not In It Anymore

This is probably the most common reason for abandoned books. When you started it, you were in love with the story. Now you’re struggling to haul yourself to your writing desk. It’s hard to stay motivated or committed to finishing the manuscript.

Of course, we all go through periods when we want to pull out our hair, hit writer’s block, or even hate our characters. That’s not what we’re talking about here. If the only emotion you feel is indifference, it’s time to say goodbye.

Don’t beat yourself up about it either. Only after that first rush of excitement passes do we see the novel’s faults and weaknesses. It may not be worth our time and energy to go on.

2. When You’re Trying To Be Something You’re Not

Sometimes the problem doesn’t lie with the manuscript, but with the author.

While we all want to write something of worth and permanence – or a juicy fat bestseller that buys us that dream beach house – you have to know your own writing style, the limits of your talent and the depth of your ambition.

The truth is we can’t all be James Patterson or Mary Pope Osborne. Few of us on the planet will twice take home the Booker Prize, like J.M. Coetzee or Hilary Mantel.

If you don’t read literary books, it’s going to be near impossible to write one. Write instead what you love to read.

Read Why Writers Write

3. When The Story Cuts Too Close To The Bone

Writing is a cathartic process, but outside of a diary it can be devastating for someone who is hurting.

Maybe you want disguise a difficult childhood, bitter divorce, or guilty affair as a work of fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand your motivation.

Writing can never take the place of professional therapy or treatment, even if journaling is part of your recovery. Don’t publish your demons before you have dealt with them yourself.

When you’re ready and strong enough, be brave and write an authentic and relatable memoir.

4. When You Don’t Have Time to Focus On It

Some novels will demand your full attention to write. They will consume every waking moment.

For example, wanting to create a series of historical novels set in the last days of the Roman Empire is not something you can squeeze in between taking the kids to trombone lessons.

If you have a full-time career, become a parent, or you’re recovering from an illness, you may not be able to give it the attention it deserves.

However, if you feel passionate about it, you will find the time to write – it may just take you longer to complete.

Try our workbook: Write Your Novel In A Year

5. When You’re Hanging On To A ‘Dead’ Book

Sometimes writers hang on to a story or idea long after it should’ve been buried. After several rewrites and months – even years and years – we still stubbornly refuse to see that it will never come together.

The truth is we may never know the reason why the book didn’t work out. Often too much ‘chopping and changing’ leaves it truncated and scarred. During the hours on the operating table, its heart just stops. It dies.

For any writer, this is heart-breaking.

But it’s time to mourn it, forgive yourself, take a break – and try again. Nothing is lost. Even a ‘bad’ book will teach you something about the writing and rewriting process.

Read What 20 Famous Authors Had To Say About Rewriting

The Last Word

Even when the shipwreck is on the ocean floor, you can still dive and retrieve the odd treasure. It could be a character you like, or a setting, or even a description or two.

Sometimes a story you thought dead may come back to life, but you must give it time.

anthony ehlers Anthony Ehlers facilitates courses for Writers Write. He writes awesome blog posts and workbooks too.

More Posts From Anthony:

  1. 6 Mistakes Screenwriters Make
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  4. 7 Types Of Narcissists To Use In Your Next Story
  5. The 5 Pillars Of Action-Adventure
  6. 5 Ways To Write About Stalkers
  7. 12 Months, 12 Inspiring Ideas For Writers
  8. The 4 Pillars Of New Adult Fiction
  9. How To Write The Outsider In Fiction
  10. 5 Ways To Find Your Way Back To Creativity & Writing

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 23rd February 2022
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