These are three questions from three different writers, all of which I received in the last couple weeks:
I've been working on a story for over half a year now and I'm committed to it, but I feel like I don't "love" it enough. I think about my plot and my characters all the time, but not in the same way that I think about my favorite books. I kind of think that if I don't love it, other people won't, either. Should I give it up and start some other story? Or is there any way to fix this lack of enthusiasm?
Are there signs for when you need to set a story aside?
How do you know if you need to give up (at least temporarily) on one book and concentrate on another. I know sometimes its finding the right publisher for your book, but other times its the book itself. Especially with teen authors when our writing hasn't matured. How do you know if you need to move on? Rather than plowing through another revision...
In my 8 years of writing full time, I've been in this situation - is this book worth it? - more often than I'd like. I'll share my thoughts and experiences with you all, but ultimately as the writer, you are the one who gets to make that call.
Rejection is part of the writing business, as I'm sure we all know. Just because an agent reads your book and chooses not to represent you, or just because an editor reads it and decides it's not for them, doesn't mean it's a bad book. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected by 12 editors before it found a home. The Help by Kathryn Stockett was, according to the author, rejected 60 times.
|The initial print run for this book was 1,000 copies. Amazing!|
The first thing you may want to ask yourself is, "Does my idea have potential to be a great book?" Ideally you ask yourself this before you ever start it, but I had already been pursuing publication for 3 or 4 years before I figured that out. Of course this begs the question what makes a book great?
- Have a main character in a sympathetic situation? (Using the examples of Harry Potter and The Help, Harry is an orphan being raised by a horrid family, and Skeeter is a white girl in the south in the 1960s who wants to help black maids tell their stories)
- Have a main character who is a hero in some way? (As a baby, Harry somehow defeated the darkest, most powerful wizard, though he's not sure how, and Skeeter is risking her life to tell an important story and provide social justice.)
- Provide a unique storyworld for the reader? (Hogwarts School, and tumultuous Mississippi in the 1960s)
- Have a theme or takeaway message that will impact readers? (Harry is capable of so much more greatness than he had ever imagined, or in The Help, equality for people of all races.)
- Have a great ending? (Don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't yet enjoyed Harry Potter or The Help, but the endings are great!)
Now, a book doesn't have to have all these things to be a good, entertaining story. Gossip Girl doesn't really have a heroic main character or a great theme, but it's still an engrossing read and addictive series. The unique storyworld (a peek at the life of unbelievably rich and spoiled teenagers from old money families in NYC) makes up for it.
Another thing I ask myself now is "Does it work structurally?" Sometimes good story structure happens naturally when I'm writing. Other times, when I can't get the book to take off, I realize it's because my structure is flimsy. My character is lingering too long in the "home world" instead of accepting the invitation to move into the story, or I haven't given her a strong enough opponent. That's one of the reasons why understanding good story structure can really help.
After I've asked myself some questions like the above, I have to ask, "Am I excited enough about this idea to invest time in it?" Sometimes I am. I rewrote Me, Just Different FOUR times because I just could not let the idea go. There were times that I shelved it, convinced it was unfixable, but I kept coming back to it. Ultimately it paid off.
|Holding my first copy of Me, Just Different!|
If you're questioning moving forward with your story, the first thing I'd recommend is putting it away for a period of time. A month or so. Either work on another project you're feeling excited about, or take a break from writing in general.
After you've gotten some space, pull the manuscript back out and read through it. When I've done this, I've had times where I think, "Yep. This is just as horrible as I thought." Then I put it away again, often forever.
Other times I've thought, "You know ... this isn't so bad. It's kinda good, actually. Maybe if I added this or that, it could work."
Another thing to try is having a friend look at it. Someone who will not only be honest but knows what they're talking about. Someone who at least reads a lot. Ideally someone who is a writer too.
Or if you suspect that your idea is good, that you have the elements of a potentially great novel, only you've been working on it so long it's starting to feel dull or stale, try flipping through a craft book like Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass or Deep and Wide by Susan May Warren. The exercises in there will encourage you to think differently about characters and plot, and they might help breathe some new life into your story. Because sometimes my story isn't the problem - sometimes I'm just being lazy.
While you're the only one who can decide if the story merits perseverance or if it's time to move on, I hope this has helped provide direction for a next step.
Have a great weekend, everyone!