I wish I had better news to share, but the only thing I can do at this point is be honest. I wrote recently about my struggles to resolve the motivations of characters in my novel by strengthening their backstories. As fun as it was to take that journey into the past with my characters, I’m not sure it was enough to save the novel in its current form.
I’ve come to realize that I’m dealing with major structural issues in the story arc and an overly complex plot. I think my “onward and upward” approach to writing (favoring putting words on the page over focusing on the novel as a whole) has led me into this dead end. It’s disappointing to have to start over after coming this far, but it is what it is.
Still, I’m emerging from my first (failed) attempt at novel-writing wiser, and with more curiosity and determination than ever before.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned from my writing journey so far:
- I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’ve been surprised by my characters, but emergent plot holes, and by the sheer amount of work and organization that goes into writing a novel—and that’s after obsessively reading books and articles on novel-writing. I don’t think there’s any way to learn these lessons other than experiencing them first hand. I’m glad I finally found the courage to take the plunge!
- There are ups and downs. The process of writing a long piece of fiction can be fun, exhausting, daunting, inspiring, and everything in between. Some days, the words will flow effortlessly, and others I’ll want to chuck my computer out the window. If you keep going, you’ll get to more ups… and more downs… but you’ll be making progress.
- I’m not a “pantser.” I’m not the kind of writer who can take an idea and run with it. I need structure. I need to know where each idea is going. Thus, planning out and developing my plot in advance is as important as writing. (Not every writer works this way, but I need a method to balance out my madness!)
- Things won’t always go according to plan. If I had stuck perfectly to my original writing schedule, I’d be wrapping up my first draft and getting ready to begin editing. While that would have been deeply validating on paper, I feel like what I have produced is less of a draft and more of a “false start.” It doesn’t need to be edited—it needs to be gutted (at the very least) or thrown on the scrap heap to make room for something better.
- It’s not over until you decide it’s over. Now would be a great time for me to throw my hands up in the air and proclaim that I was clearly never meant to write a book. However, if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that you haven’t failed until you stop trying. That doesn’t mean that you should try to force something that isn’t working—or even keep trying in the same way. The key to success is to take a step back, figure out what went wrong, and plan a new way forward. This might mean shifting your goal slightly. My goal is no longer “have a finished draft by the end of February 2017” but “take time to examine and restructure the story, do more research on what works in writing novels, and resume writing when I’ve worked out the kinks in the plot.”
I’m planning to take a hiatus from writing to work on plotting, but I’m still hoping to make progress on this project each month. Updates will follow!