today I abandoned a novel. #writingcommmunity
— Duncan Ellis (@DunxIsWriting) May 22, 2020
It’s not every day that I decide to abandon one of my stories. If I run out of steam on a story then I will usually put it down and then just never pick it back up again.
The Kissiltur trilogy was the first story I consciously abandoned because I kept trying to make it work and it kept not working – I was spending time better used for other projects when I didn’t even really have any passion for it any more. In that case I was fighting against the sunk cost fallacy: I had put so much time and energy into it; surely I could make a story out of it somehow?
Another term for “spending time better used for other projects” is “wasting time”, and that was ultimately what pushed me to the decision to abandon that story. I just needed to work on other things, so drawing a line under the effort on the Kissiltur books was important – it gave me permission to stop.
The other week I decided to pick up my 2017 NaNovel, Disconnected, and see what I could make of it. I did a rough compile into ebook for review, then realised it was unreadable because the default font was Courier and it still included all my [embedded notes].
Disconnected is a sequel to my first novel-like story, The Manx Connection. Cleaning up the text for review reminded me of some of the misgivings I had when I was writing it, and then when I actually went through and read it all in a straight line it confirmed what the problem with the novel was: it was bad.
The manuscript is not technically bad: my writing technique has improved a great deal over the years so that first drafts are actually readable and only tend to be disjoint between widely separated sections (eg the name of some incidental characters might drift on their infrequent appearances). No, the story and the characters are bad.
These things are fixable, eventually, but my experience tells me that the prize is not worth the effort. There are things about the story that I like – the central motifs of loss and shame are powerful – but I don’t know how I rescue the things I like from the problematic story elements and characterisations.
So after patching up my comments for the first handful of chapters I decided to put the story down, a positive decision which allows me to move on.
I’ve instead gone back to Song, recompiling the latest state to see what I am missing. I feel like I am reacquainting myself with a machine I haven’t operated in a while, but the controls are familiar and it still functions pretty well. I’m looking forward to working on this.
As for the other story… Disconnected is not the first novel I put down, nor is the Kissiltur trilogy. The first NaNoWriMo story I abandoned was my 2006 effort Paragons, and I rewrote that one in 2016 as a much better book. So I have hope that I can come back more successfully to the others at some point in the future.
I already have ideas for how I could fix them. I’m just not going to work on those right now.