16 February, 2015

On Scrapping Half A Novel

With very little time to write at the moment and the prospect of that time being whittled down even more dramatically in the not-too-distant future, I have decided to scrap 40 000 words of my novel-in-progress - all of it so far - and start again. Why? That's a question I spent far too long answering.

In January, I came back to my novel after a few weeks off and felt uninspired to continue. For a few weeks I convinced myself that it was normal - I always get stuck in the middle of a novel draft, don't I? But as the days went on and I still wasn't working on it, a nagging doubt kept surfacing. This wasn't my usual mid-novel mire, this was more important. This novel wasn't working.

The premise of my current novel is one I like a lot. However, a premise - the central idea - and a plot are different things. I didn't have enough plot to carry a full-length novel. I'd thought of one idea and gone with it blindly, but it wasn't the right idea. It wasn't big enough or strong enough or ambitious enough. It wasn't the direction the story needed to go in. When I finally admitted this to myself, I had two choices.

1) Scrap the novel entirely. Chances are it would take me years to get it submission quality and the amount of focussed time I had for writing was so small I might as well scrap the novel and concentrate instead on writing more short fiction and having fun.
2) Scrap the novel entirely and start it again. Take the initial premise and the main characters I'd created and re-think the plot completely. Forget the thousands of words that had been so difficult to snatch in my baby's nap times, and start with a blank page.

If I took neither choice, I'd continue to waste time not doing anything. So I thought I was going to go for option one. After all, if writing isn't fun, then what's the point? In the little time I had, I could write short stories and have the satisfaction of completing whole pieces of fiction. But instead, I've gone for option two.

The big thing that changed for me was my first novel being on promotion on Amazon. Until now I'd had plenty of good reviews from people who bought The Art of Letting Go because they know me, and a handful from strangers. This month, as hundreds of people have bought my first book, I'm getting reviews from people I've never met, who have no link to me at all - and they're still (mostly) good! Even better, people are getting in contact with me personally just to tell me how much they loved my book. I'm amazed and humbled, convinced there must be a mistake somewhere but determined to keep going. Of course, I'm terrified the second book will be a disappointment now, but at least I will have tried.

I've spent the last few weeks, re-working my ideas for my second novel (with the working title of Matthew's List). It still feels tough - I started writing it before my baby was born, took six months off, started all over again, wrote twice as much and now am scrapping the whole thing! But it feels good too. It is fun!

If I could encourage you all to do one thing, it would be this: when you read a book by a debut author and like it, tell them. You don't know how much they need to know it. They might be thinking of quitting. The fact that several people now have contacted me to ask me if I'm writing another novel has given me the answer they were looking for: Yes. Yes I am.

3 comments:

  1. I know the 'Half way through' feeling very well Chloe! Good luck with Plan B.

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  2. A brave decision, Chloe - but I suspect it's the right one. It happens to the best authors; on the Arvon course I went on last year Jim Crace told us about having to give up on a book he'd spent months chipping away at. But it wasn't working, and there was no way to avoid that fact. With the prospect of having to pay back the advance, he scrapped everything and went back to the blank page. A few months later, and still in time for his original deadline, he submitted Harvest.

    The best of luck with your restart. I hope the drastic action you've taken 'unlocks' the idea and gives you the boost you need to get all the way to the end.

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  3. That would've been hard, but better now than after you finished the whole thing. We need to trust our instincts sometimes with our writing.

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