Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Abandoning a Novel

When should you give up on a novel that you're writing? I'd love to know the answer to this one. I've just spent the last couple of months working on something that I thought was brilliant, only to have another idea come along that I'd much rather develop. So, I'll be placing the first novel on hiatus.

Somewhere in my head there's a warning siren blaring and a little voice saying: if you don't finish what you're working on, you'll never finish anything. But I have done this before, and I did finish the story in question, making me feel a little more confident about leaving characters stranded mid-scene, their lives dangling on the edge of a void. And I'm not abandoning the novel completely - only for a little while. I'll get back to it soon, I hope.

The benefits of taking a holiday from the first novel are that when I do dive into it again, I'll have fresh eyes for any problems and more enthusiasm for the rest of the story. On the flip side of the argument, I may not be able to tap into the inspiration that sparked the story in the first place. It's a gamble. And one that I hope pays off or at least allows me to break even, with two finished stories that I'm proud of, regardless of whether they're published.

When it comes to abandoning a novel completely, we're in murkier territory. My instinct is to say that this should never be done. Even if your novel isn't working at all, you shouldn't think 'I'm cutting bait here and throwing this file into the hungry sea of my recycle bin' (or whatever metaphor you'd prefer to use). I know that that there are plenty of successful novelists who have done this - Michael Chabon springs to mind - but it just strikes me as sad and a waste of time and creative energy. Of course, you could argue that no work is ever wasted, and certain characters and techniques might find their way into later stories - even if the plot doesn't - but I still think it's a waste.

My own answer to the question of when to give up on a novel? Whenever you feel like it. Just make sure that you don't give up completely.


  1. Andrew, good post. I am working on my third novel and I was at a point where I got stuck. I put it aside for several weeks and now I am more inspired again. So, yes, giving it a break may work.

    I also abandoned a whole manuscript years ago, because I got bored with the story. Years later, though, I used part of that manuscript for my second novel.

    On the other hand, I abandoned a lot of half-finished stories earlier and never picked them up again. But small tidbits did it make it into my later writing.

    I guess there are no fixed rules here. On the other hand, sticking with something that you feel doesn't work may be waste of time.

    Thanks for following me on Twitter!

  2. Hi Christa

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm impressed that you managed to incorporate an abandoned novel into a new piece. I suppose there really are no fixed rules! To make sure I don't lose inspiration again, I've decided to mix things up a bit and write a play at the same time as my new novel. Hope this cunning ploy doesn't backfire, leaving me with two incomplete manuscripts.

    Good luck with your novel!