So you’ve been working on your novel for years, and you can’t get it across the finish line. You’ve tried everything, and there’s just no more gas in your tank. What do you do when you just can’t finish that novel?
Meredith posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Big fan of yours over here. I love that you answer questions on your blog and thought this might be a good one for you.
I’ve been working on a novel for about 4 years now. It keeps shifting — the characters stay roughly the same, but the genres and plots change. I keep getting about 75%-80% of the way through an outline (either through Snowflake Method or my own) and then end up with a blockage. I’ve workshopped this book in a WIP format and got pretty discouraged by feedback both at the idea and at the word level. I took a 3 month break from it to work on other things and have returned, but keep having the same problem.
Is my issue psychological? Is it work ethic? Every time I think I’ve unraveled what this particular book is, I feel stuck again. Is it because my idea isn’t any good? Is it because I’m not any good? What gives?
I’m at a point where I’ve written probably a novel’s worth of content in many different scenarios, from many character viewpoints, as many different genres. I feel very lost in the woods here. Is there any way out?
Any advice you can offer would be appreciated. I’ve completed several shorter works in my day but never been able to crack a novella-length work. This one keeps eluding me.
Randy sez: I can sympathize, Meredith. Here’s why…
I’ve Been There
I’ve had projects that seemed to take forever. I’ve had projects that got me bogged down to a standing stop.
I was looking through my old files last weekend and came across my very first novel. Which I restarted several times, changing the title, changing the characters, changing the plot, changing a lot of things.
That novel never got published. I think someday I’ll come back to it and publish it, but it’s not burning a hole in my brain just now, so I’m working on a project that is.
In fact, the current project I’m working on is ridiculously hard. It’s a four-book series. Each book is very long. And I’m making good progress on it. I recently published Book 1 and I’m a few scenes away from finishing the first draft of Book 2.
In every measurable way, this project is massively more difficult than that first novel I tried.
How is it that I can do this hard project now, when I couldn’t publish that (much easier) project 25 years ago?
Writing Makes You Strong
The answer is time. I’m 25 years more experienced now than I was back then.
So as I was browsing through that story over the weekend, it occurred to me that the project wasn’t a failure.
It was a success—precisely because it taught me things I needed to learn. I wrote 5 or 6 unfinished or unpublished novels before I finally sold one. Each of those was a necessary stepping stone along the way. The value was in the doing, day in and day out, for years and years.
It wasn’t a failure to walk away from those projects. It was school, and I’m a better writer because of them. As I recall, Stephen King didn’t get published until his sixth novel. Those first five weren’t failures. They were metaphorically his kindergarten and his third grade and sixth grade and ninth grade and eleventh grade. Then he finally wrote one that worked, and he metaphorically graduated.
Switching Gears is OK
So Meredith, here’s my thinking. I might be wrong, because I don’t know enough about you and your writing, but I think you might have chewed all the sugar out of this particular piece of gum. You might be done with it. It might be time to move on to some other project. And give yourself permission to put this one away for good.
That’s not a failure. You developed crucial skills that you couldn’t possibly have developed any other way than by working on this project. Now you have those skills, and the next project will develop other skills that you also need.
I’m of course just guessing here, but I’d say to go write another book. It’s possible you won’t finish that one either, but the very act of working on that project will build “writing muscle” in you.
If you do that long enough, you’ll get to where you want to be as a writer.
Good luck! And please email me again in a year to let me know how things are going.
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