When it’s time to let go: Abandoning a novel

After I let my Nano 2012 novel sit for a week, I guess it started to congeal. I couldn’t fathom ever coming back to it. I still liked the premise, but maybe there was more struggling/floundering in my first draft that I’d wanted, more [oh, we need a scene that shows X], more [agh what else am I supposed to do in here????] in it than I would’ve liked. The writing quality is actually okay (for a first draft), and nothing stands out as being bad or irreparable, but I just . . . meh.

I think almost all of us have novels we’ve abandoned. Maybe they’re in a metaphorical (or real!) drawer, maybe they’re “trunked,” maybe they’re on 3.5″ floppies somewhere. Usually, these are our earliest novels, our first attempts at wielding a full-sized plot or creating believable, sympathetic characters—and so they might not be very good. They might not be fixable, either. Or maybe we simply found a shiny new idea and pursued that.

It’s hard to abandon a novel—but harder still to work on something that doesn’t work at all. I did a “Half-No” for Nano 2010, and eventually finished that book, but basically the entire second quarter doesn’t work. I tried a major reset at the beginning of this year, nearly a year after I finished that book, and . . . I got nothing. Still.

Sometimes, of course, we have to work on difficult things, or things we don’t enjoy—maybe we hate drafting, or line edits make us want to scratch our eyes out. If we want to be published—trade, small or well-published as an indie—we still have to do the parts we don’t like.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to flog ourselves over stories that suck our souls dry. As Natalie Whipple pointed out last month (emphasis mine),

For example, I wrote something this summer that my editor passed on. And with good reason. I certainly don’t blame her, because looking at it now I don’t think it’s something I put my all into. I don’t have the proper passion for it, which means I’ll probably have to set it aside out of necessity. Because this business is too hard to waste effort on something you don’t 150% love.

So often, when I’ve lost the passion for a book, it shows in the quality. And if you don’t LOVE your book, why should anyone else?

The last one is my sister—I thought it was a great point! Occasionally, we might try something new, different, challenging, and that’s great. If it doesn’t turn out, or if you change your mind, at least you tried, and it’s okay to accept that it doesn’t work, and move on.

And you never know—maybe you’ll come back to it, say, while you’re exporting it from Scrivener to Word, and read a scene or two and fall in love all over again.

Soon, we’ll talk about when NOT to give up.

What do you think? Have you given up on a novel? Why? Come join the conversation!

9 thoughts on “When it’s time to let go: Abandoning a novel”

  1. Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that. 🙁

    But I’m kind of like you, the premise means everything, and if things aren’t coming together enough for me to feel that passion for the premise, it’s hard to be excited to work on it. (I’m in the midst of a debate on my blog about this very thing from the opposite end–when you love a premise enough to start over with a blank page.)

    I like Amber’s perspective, and that’s what I’ve done with some novels I’ve finished but haven’t done the edits for. I’ve told myself that I’m setting them aside–for now. 🙂 Good luck with however you handle it.

    1. I don’t really have the “Oh no!” reaction. I guess I’m just not feeling it—and that, right there, is probably telling enough.

      I might come back to it. I slotted edits into my production schedule a year from now. We’ll see.

  2. I don’t call them ‘failures’ but ‘experiments.’ I have a number of drafts that are really more pile of raw materials than actual novels. They go back into the crucible, or onto the compost pile (whichever metaphor you find most appropriate).

    “What’s missing here?” is the hardest question of all. Sometimes the lack of passion comes from a missing ingredient. Time is the best editor on those.

    1. I love that point of view! And yes, it’s that “what’s missing?” problem. Ah well. If it never comes, my life won’t be a shattering disappointment 😉 .

  3. I think there are a few of my novels I’ll end up abandoning, but only after I have complete drafts of them. I’m one of those weirdos who MUST FINISH THE ROUGH DRAFT AT LEAST. 😉

    1. Oh, yes, that’s what I mean here—completed roughs.

      I usually finish my roughs, but the few times I’ve ended up HATING a manuscript in the first few chapters, I shrug and say it just wasn’t right. Save. Close. File away. Don’t do that very often, but I don’t really have a problem with it.

  4. Like many other beginning writers, I abandoned my first novel. I spent several years revising and rewriting it until I realized I had no passion left for it. I don’t think it can be salvaged. I don’t even like the premise anymore, and the protagonist is a whiner.

    It was a good learning experience for me from a writing perspective. It’s complete, if not ‘finished’, and I don’t feel guilty about abandoning it. I’ve finished a number of others that I still like.

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