Writing a novel is a long, arduous process. We start with a gleaming idea, perfect in our minds, but in the process of getting that gem onto the page, it twists and contorts and reveals all sorts of defects that we never noticed in the haze of our new-idea ecstasy. When we are grappling with the reality of bringing a manuscript to completion, there are many points along the way when it’s tempting to drop the misshapen project for a dazzling new idea bursting forth from our imaginations. After all, the current idea has so many flaws, but the new one is clearly perfect. Why waste valuable time on a project that isn’t going anywhere?
You can probably see the flaw in this reasoning if you aren’t in the middle of it yourself. Every idea seems perfect before you dig in and expose all its faults. But the process of writing and especially of revising is designed to expose the flaws and correct them. We have to push through the hard work to get the polished jewel at the end. Especially for the beginning writer, there’s no better way to learn how to write than by actually struggling through the entire process. I’ve devoted a post to that valuable experience.
But, if most published authors have one or two novels tucked away in a drawer, then at some point they had to make the decision to move on. How do you know it’s time? I’m sure the process is different for everyone, but here’s what happened with me.
My drawer novel taught me how to construct a solid plot, deepen characterization, and just figure out the logistics of getting a long-form narrative on the page. In the end, although it taught me many things, that story wasn’t actually a good example of any of them. In the course of writing the book, I realized how I really ought to have written it, which was a valuable lesson. But I also realized that I didn’t care enough about this particular story to totally rewrite it into a better story. The passion wasn’t there. So at that point, I decided to take all the lessons I’d learned from writing that first novel and put them to work in a new novel, one I was passionate about.
My current work-in-progress is bogged down in the revision process at the moment. That’s one thing I didn’t really learn how to do in my first novel. I wrote that one, and then I revised it—slightly—tweaking wording, adding a few scenes, deleting others. It was nothing like the major plot shifts and world-building changes I’m doing here. But here’s the difference: I can see how to make this story better, and I want to do it.
I’m not saying it’s an easy ride. Every time I think I’ve gotten Act I into decent shape and try to move on to Act II, I discover another round of flaws that must be corrected before I can legitimately proceed. And I haven’t even gotten to the point where I try to make the writing beautiful. This is all plot and character arc. It’s a long, slow slog. But, do you know what? I love this story, and I won’t be giving up on it any time soon.