unsolicited writing advice #1

I remember a time, it now seems long ago, that I was writing a novel. This was to be my First Serious Novel, and all the people in the know, you know, the ones who had been in the writing workshop a year longer than me, said: you have to finish what you start. If you don’t finish it, you can never send it out.

And that kinda made sense.

So I slaved over that novel, re-wrote it goodness-knows-how-many times over about two years, always starting from the beginning, usually stalling somewhere at the mid-point. I wrote little else, until finally, after a lot of frustration, I had Finished it. Yay.

Except it was much too long. And the plot was far too convoluted. And the story resolution was satisfactory for the main character, but not really for anyone else. And did I tell you it was a mess? That went without saying. It was my First Serious Novel after all.

I didn’t see that, so I sent it out, as per All-Knowing Writing Gurus. I actually got some requests, but soon after, I started writing other novels, and short stories, and forgot about this novel for a while.

Until, one day, I had an Idea.

X, Y, and Z were wrong, and the functions performed by characters A, B and C could be served by a single personality, who would then have more word-space.

I re-wrote the novel one last time. Fixed up the characters, tossed a bunch of alternate POVs, cut a number of plot lines, and effectively halved the word count. I knew what I was doing, because I know how I was going to do it.

It took me two weeks. I was offered a contract, which I didn’t accept, but the novel is now with another publisher.

The moral of this tale: I see so many writers struggling with plot-less first novels. The worst are the ones that have a seed of a good idea, and where the writer is being told this by others. The writer will spend hour after hour on a story without really knowing how to fix it.

For these writers, here are some thoughts:

1. For crying out loud, stop what you’re doing and start writing something fresh
2. The work you did on this novel is not going to go away. It will still be there when you put it aside for 1-2 years and come back to it later
3. For crying out loud, don’t touch that damn novel again until you are very clear about what’s wrong with it and how to fix it
4. Stop wasting your time on projects that have stalled, or that somehow won’t work.
5. Did I say stop wasting your time?


6 comments on “unsolicited writing advice #1

  1. Great advice! I’ve got at least three novels with basically the same situation (all three of which I’ve since figured out how to fix, but haven’t yet had time to do so), and I’ve had three so far that I’ve stopped part way through the first draft, realizing they just weren’t working. I’ll keep the ideas, and maybe at some point in the future I’ll figure out how to make them work. Or maybe not.

    I think if it’s your first novel, or even your second, it’s a good idea to at least get the first draft done, to prove to yourself you can do so (I wrote my first five straight through at least the first draft). But after that, recognizing when a project just isn’t going to work is a valuable skill, especially if you want to be published.

    • I sometimes see writers I’d just want to slap and tell them to write something else for a bit. They’re staring themselves blind on one project.

      • Definitely. If I lose motivation on a draft for more than a few days, I set it aside. I figure there’s a reason I’m not motivated to finish it. I just finished up the first draft of a novel I started last summer and had let sit from October or November until last month. I got discouraged over some early feedback (note to self: don’t put things up for feedback until the first draft is done!) and lost the will to finish it. I always have a few projects going, so if I get lost on one, I can work on something else until I figure it out.

      • I think showing your work to readers before it’s finished can be useful if you haven’t quite discovered your style, but later on, it’s probably counter-productive, because it may encourage you to work on the wrong things while discouraging you to do what you should be doing, if that makes any sense.

  2. Yeah, great post. I’m rewriting my second novel right now, it was plotless. I love your advice, also because I discovered the same myself and it validates my experience.

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