Posted On March 8, 2017 by Print This Post

Should You Give Up On Your Novel and Write Something New? – by Janice Hardy

How many unfinished and abandoned manuscripts do you have? Author and blogger Janice Hardy shares her insight on the dilemma all writers face.  

Right after my third novel was published (2011), I hit a bad patch of writing. My muse had gone vacation, every sentence I typed was a battle, and writing became a chore I dreaded. Although it felt like giving up, I shifted my writing focus to nonfiction until telling stories became fun again. Eventually it did, but it took years.

I wrote a lot of so-so novels during that time. Every single one had an idea I loved, but they need a lot of revising and overhauling to make them work, and I’m not sure if revising them yet again is a good idea or not.

Idea #1 frustrated me for two and a half years of revisions. Idea #2 took another two years of my life. Idea #3 was a NaNo project that actually made writing fun again, but then languished when I wasn’t sure what to do with it next.

I want to make these novels work. The stubborn side of me needs to make them work–it’s a grudge match at this point. But going back to them risks me falling back into that same bad patch of frustration.

The end of last year, I picked up Idea #3 again. It was the novel that reminded me why I loved to write, and the one that had the least emotional baggage attached to it. It needed serious gutting and revamping of both the plot and the characters, but the story was sound and the idea excited me.

Last month, I sent it to my critique partners and beta readers, and it’s getting the kind of glowing feedback I haven’t seen since I sent them my debut novel (The Shifter). I’m overjoyed, and it’s given me hope that those other two ideas are indeed salvageable.

However…

Should I even try? Is it wise to keep struggling with a novel that might never work, or should I work on something new and capitalize on my writing momentum and excitement?

If you’re facing a similar choice, here are some things to consider:

  1. How much work does the manuscript really need?

Sometimes the only way to make a novel work is to trash everything but the idea and start fresh. If it usually takes you two years to write a novel, it’ll likely take you that long to revise this one. If all it needed was a few months of tweaks, you’d have done that already. Take some time and look at what needs to happen and understand what you’re getting yourself into by staying with that novel.

For example, for my books, Idea #1 needs a different protagonist, a deleted POV character, and a plot revamp. Half the book will have to be rewritten, and the other half revised to make the new parts work. Idea #2 needs a total rewrite from the plot up. The plot direction is what didn’t work.

  1. What are the odds that working on this book will trigger the same frustrations as before?

Be honest. If you’re breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it, that’s a pretty good indication you should move on to something new. But if there’s a glimmer of excitement at finally getting this project to work, maybe it’s worth another shot. How do you feel about the novel? What emotions does it trigger in you? Is it keeping you from writing?

For me, Idea #1 carries a very real risk of plunging me back into the darkness. There’s just so much baggage associated with it, and even though I love the idea, and I think I can rework it in a few months, I’ve thought that before. Idea #2 doesn’t have that same risk. I can start over there and be okay. It wasn’t the book that made me dread writing, so it doesn’t have the same emotional triggers.

  1. Is there a new project that’s more exciting?

If a new idea is calling to you, and you spend more time thinking about it than the book that’s giving you trouble, that could be your subconscious telling you it’s time to set that project aside. If your creativity has dried up for one book, exploring another could be the way to rekindle the muse. Of course, be wary if you repeatedly hit a wall with one idea and start over with a new one–that could indicate the problem is the writer, not the book.

For me, both ideas sit behind a new idea (or two, maybe three) I’m eager to write.

  1. Why does it have to be this novel?

If an idea keeps drawing you back, there’s a reason. What about this project makes you want to write it, even though it’s frustrating you and feels like it’s never going to work? Why do you love it? What do you need to write it?

For me, Idea #1 was the first idea I got excited about after I’d sold my trilogy, so I feel like I owe it. I love the setting, the themes, the characters. Idea #2 explores an idea and world I find fascinating, with characters I really want to get to know better.

Now ask yourself, “Do I really want to finish this novel?”

This is a hard question to ask, because often we’ve put so much work into a novel that setting it aside feels like we failed. But not every story works and not every idea needs to be written. If an idea isn’t ready, or never will be ready, that doesn’t mean we’re bad writers.

If the answer is yes: Finish that novel. Figure out what you need to do to make it work, and go after it. Don’t be afraid to make deep cuts, change characters, re-do the plot, or even start fresh with nothing but the idea. The idea is what keeps drawing you back, so that’s all that really matters. Everything else can be changed to best fit that idea.

If the answer is no: Bid that project farewell and move on to a new idea. Don’t feel guilty about all the work you out into it, or think you have to finish every book you start. It was a good learning experience, and no writing is ever wasted. What you did with that manuscript will make the next one that much easier to write, and you’ll be a whole lot happier.

What I decided from this:

Idea #1 is a hesitant no with a side of maybe. I do think I can fix it, but now’s not the time. Maybe in a year or two, after I’ve had a good run of writing and I’m no longer worried about losing my muse again. I think if I go back to it now, I’ll spend the next year struggling with it and feeling miserable.

Idea #2 is a solid yes, but after I write the new projects I’m excited about. I think it’ll be a good book to return to next year, but if I can fit it in this year, I will. It might even be a good NaNo novel–knock out the first draft for fun and see what happens. If it works, I’ll revise, but if not, I’ll move on.

The sheer time, energy, and dedication it takes to write a novel means it’s hard to walk away from it when we need to. Like a bad relationship, it’s easier to stay one more day with what’s known than to quit and venture into the unknown. But if a fresh start is the right thing to do, we need to be able to look at our writing objectively and judge the best course for our career and our sanity. If a story isn’t working, it’s okay to say goodbye and try something new. Just as it’s okay to stay with a novel we love if we honestly think we can make it work.

Trust your instincts, consider all your options, and do what’s best for you as a writer.

Are you wondering if you should give up on a novel? What’s stopping you?

***

UNDERSTANDING SHOW, DON’T TELL

Do you struggle with show, don’t tell? You don’t have to. 

Janice Hardy takes you deep into one of the most frustrating aspects of writing–showing, and not telling. She’ll help you understand what show, don’t tell means, teach you how to spot told prose in your writing, and reveal why common advice on how to fix it doesn’t always work.

With in-depth analysis, Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) looks at what affects told prose and when telling is the right thing to do. It also explores aspects of writing that aren’t technically telling, but are connected to told prose and can make prose feel told, such as infodumps, description, and backstory.

Her easy-to-understand examples will show you clear before and after text and demonstrate how telling words change the prose. You’ll learn how to find the right balance between description, narrative, and internalization for the strongest impact. These examples will also demonstrate why showing the wrong details can sound just as dull as telling.

Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) is more than just advice on what to do and what not to do—it’s a down and dirty examination and analysis of how show, don’t tell works, so you can adapt the “rules” to whatever style or genre you’re writing. By the end of this book, you’ll have a solid understanding of show, don’t tell and the ability to use it without fear or frustration.

***

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of YA fantasy series, The Healing Wars, and the bestselling Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting it). Her Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, and the “editor-in-a-book,” Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft. She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at www.fiction-university.com or @Janice_Hardy.

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17 Responses to “Should You Give Up On Your Novel and Write Something New? – by Janice Hardy”

  1. Thanks for having me, guys! It’s always a treat to hang out at RU 🙂

    Posted by janice | March 8, 2017, 8:08 am
  2. There’s one series that’s been living in the back of my brain for two years. I finished book 1–pleased and very proud and not only because it was the first manuscript I finished. I started book two full of energy as the story seemed to appear without me even trying.
    Then the feedback on book 1 came out…
    It wasn’t this, it needed that, what kind of character would do that?
    My Muse strangled herself and there went the momentum for book two; heck, the whole series!
    I set them aside for a year.

    But the storyline and MC wouldn’t leave me alone. Every new manuscript I started caused a chest pain because the voices from that book would cry. Finally, when yet another story wouldn’t come out right, I stopped and returned to the abandoned one last month.
    And it seems too that having two stories going on at once is making each book faster.

    Posted by Nicole | March 8, 2017, 8:23 am
  3. This post came at the perfect time for me. I’ve been avoiding my writing – off and on – for months, mostly because my current WIP just wasn’t working. I loved the premise, had the perfect setting, ‘thought’ I had the characters all worked out … but overall, I felt it wasn’t coming together the way I wanted it to (and feedback from critique partners reinforced that). Still, I WANTED to ‘fix’ whatever was wrong (if I could just figure out what it was) and finish it (I have a hard time NOT finishing what I start). Your post has given me the ‘permission’ I need to let it go (for now anyway) and move on to something else. And while it will be hard to set aside months of work, I realize now it’s the right thing to do (and, as you say, no writing is ever wasted). Thanks for reminding me of that!

    Posted by Margo Karolyi | March 8, 2017, 10:02 am
    • You’re most welcome. There’s a good chance that book is just not ready to be written yet, but I bet you stumble across the right piece before too long. Clearing your mind and working on something new will let your subconscious continue to think about it on the sidelines 🙂

      Posted by janice | March 8, 2017, 12:11 pm
  4. Great post. I always enjoy what you have to share. I also follow your blog at Fiction University and am taking your online revisions course.

    I’m going to keep plugging away on mine. It’s taking me longer than expected to complete this ms but I feel good about it–like it has something to offer. Right now I’m a wee bit lost (I am horrible at endings).

    Posted by Mercy | March 8, 2017, 7:42 pm
    • Thanks! Oh, I feel you on the endings. I always have to rewrite mine a few times.

      What helps me with endings, is to spend more time at the draft stage and figure out what the ending actually is. What is the “win” for my protagonist? The more I nail that down beforehand, the easier it’s been to write it. The books with the vaguest endings have been the hardest endings to write.

      Posted by janice | March 9, 2017, 6:04 am
  5. Oh man, this REALLY hits close to home. How many manuscripts do I have, in different stages of progress? Um, I don’t know – at least ten, maybe more. Two of these are NaNo stories, and one has been “finished”, polished and revised countless times. I’ll set it aside, start a new story and then go back to this one again. Three or four stories never went beyond the first 50 pages or so. Three went to 100K before falling into the endless pit of cutting and revising.

    I’ve tried writing novellas, which kind of worked. One story attracted the interest of an editor, who liked it but thought the story would be better if I expanded it to a full-length story. Whenever I attempt something shorter, that’s the feedback I get.

    At the moment, I’m making zero progress because I can’t decide which direction to go. Thanks for a very helpful post – I appreciate your suggestions!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | March 8, 2017, 11:45 pm
    • If shorter fits your natural style, have you looked at what genres you like with lower word counts? Such as category romance or mysteries? Something in the 60-70K word range. (Or middle grade or young adult if you have the interest there).

      Maybe what’s holding you back is your natural storytelling style fits a smaller book, and expanding that is hard for you. For example, my first drafts are almost always around 60K words. It takes work for me to write higher than that, and my brain just naturally plots for that size novel.

      Are you a pantser or an outliner? Maybe changing your process would help you as well.

      Posted by janice | March 9, 2017, 6:08 am
  6. Many people are good at raising questions, but less adept at answering them. It takes some skills to add mystery and tension, it takes other skills to write a well-rounded world and answering questions in a satisfying way. The whole novel should lead to the moment of truth, the moment where the hero had a habit or way of thinking that hurt her, and all she is going through leads her to a big change or epiphany. If the writer does not know what the moment of truth will be (which means answering essential questions), then the story derails. I believe that the more stories a writer plans, the better he gets at answering those questions. You do have a different attitude, Janice, and I loved reading about your way of looking at things. Thanks.

    Posted by Sussu | March 11, 2017, 5:34 pm
    • Most welcome. I like how you sum up the idea of a story–the moment of truth. What a great way of looking at a character arc, or even a plot for the more character-driven novels.

      Posted by janice | March 14, 2017, 6:05 am
  7. Thanks for this post. I’m working on a story now that requires pretty much a complete overhaul, because I wrote it before I knew anything about GMC. I’m still amazed at how interesting it was in spite of that. It was the positive feedback I got that encouraged me to go back it. However, every story I had started before that I’d given up on before even finishing the first draft, so I appreciate what you said: “Of course, be wary if you repeatedly hit a wall with one idea and start over with a new one–that could indicate the problem is the writer, not the book.” This was an epiphany I had shortly after Speedbo last year.

    What I realized is that I had no idea how to plot. Slowly, I’m getting there. I think the lesson for me was to spend a little more time in the brainstorming process, making sure I had enough conflict to sustain the plot. It might not be the world’s best plot, but I see this process as a learning experience if nothing else. I’ve got another idea I’m itching to get to that I think inherently has a decent plot, but because I’ve given up on so many stories before I decided I needed to stick with this one through the next draft at least.

    Posted by Lara Hitchcock | March 13, 2017, 9:33 am
    • This is what I do (in case it helps you figure out what works for you).

      I start with a VERY rough query blurb about the story. I’ve found forcing myself to write that short summary makes me think about what the core conflict, motivations, stakes, and end goal of the novel are.

      Then I do a rough outline of the major turning points. I do this before every story to get a sense of what the overall plot will be. That lets me see the general sense of the plot and if I have enough goals and conflicts to fill the novel.

      After that, I write a summary that goes from opening scene to end scene. I flesh out the steps between those major plot points.

      Some of these aspects will be rougher than others, but I can easily tell where I’m still weak on plot.

      I also spend more time on the ending. I’ve learned that if I don’t know what my ending is, the whole book is harder to write.

      At the risk of sounding sales-y, you might look at my book, Planning Your Novel. It’ll take you step by step through the whole process and give you all kinds of exercises and questions to help you plot and develop your novel. You’re exactly the type of writer I wrote it for 🙂

      Posted by janice | March 14, 2017, 6:13 am
  8. Hi Janice,

    I reread my unfinished manuscripts last month, and I just wanted to start rewriting right away. I wish I had more time to devote to writing at the moment. These stories are still in my head. Every day. I do mental rewrites, so I guess that means I’m not ready to give up on them. I realize now that I wasn’t experienced enough to deal with the problems I encountered with the early manuscripts. I got hung up on ‘rules’ and stuff like where the turning points should be instead of letting the story unfold on its own. Stepping away for a (long) while really helps.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 14, 2017, 2:36 am
    • It really does, and I’m glad you got your needed perspective and skills to allow you to go back to them. Hope this time around those manuscripts work themselves out and you’re happy with the finished book!

      Good luck 🙂

      Posted by janice | March 14, 2017, 6:15 am
  9. Wow. Talk about timely. This article came to me exactly when I needed it. I have three books out in the world (a YA series) and have been working on the 4th for almost 2 years now. It is just NOT working. So much so, that I am at the point where I’m wondering if there even NEEDS to be a 4th book in the series. I have lost my love for this book and sitting down to write feels like I’m facing a root canal or something equally heinous. I took three months off from it, but came back feeling ever more frustrated. In the wings, however, I have TWO partly written YA manuscripts (unrelated) that are calling to me. Calling very loud! Maybe it’s that crazy work ethic thing, but I feel that if I quit my troublesome book #4, I am failing. You have given me things to think about. It may just be time to call it quits with this WIP. Time for the big break up. After all, if I’m not excited about it, how can I expect my readers to be. Great post. Thank you!

    Posted by Carol Anne Shaw | March 19, 2017, 2:35 pm
    • Oh good! I love when that happens.

      I’d say quit book 4. Go write the other two 🙂 (Unless you’re under contract, then you’d probably want to talk to your editor about that).

      Anything that’s causing you that much stress does not belong in your life right now. You can always go back to it if you want to, or you might realize after finishing the other two that you have a much better idea for book 4 that actually excites you.

      Best of luck! Sending good writing vibes your way.

      Posted by janice | March 22, 2017, 1:43 pm

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