The Novel Dilemma – When should you quit your WIP?

wayne kelly with hard days write book
I have some hard decisions to make

I have a dilemma and I need your advice. I have a 79,000 word WIP and I think I’m on the verge of abandoning it for the foreseeable future. Here’s why:

In November 2012, as part of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), I wrote almost 56,000 words of my novel, Let Sleeping Gods Lie. In the two and a half years since I took part in Nanowrimo, I have only added a measly 24,000 new words and the book sits unfinished on my hard drive. 24,000 painful words. Words that I dragged out in fits and starts, between bouts of confusion and self-doubt.

Good intentions

The first 60,000 words were a breeze. High on the adrenalin and story-buzz that comes with Nanowrimo and the ’50k-in-a-month’ target, I pumped out prose like a man possessed. With hindsight I now realise it wasn’t only the thrill of the competition that drove my productivity. You see, before I started my Nanowrimo challenge I managed to put together a very rough outline of the novel I planned to write. It was a little vague in places (particularly the climax of the story) but I did have a chapter plan. Unfortunately, that chapter plan only took me so far – to Chapter 43, to be precise – and take a guess how many words I had written at that point? That’s right – about 60,000.

Initially I barely gave it a thought. My train was about to leave the track and head off in to the wilderness. So what? I always thought of myself as a ‘pantser’ anyway. More fun that way. More creative. Unpredictable. EXCITING! So I ploughed on blindly, in to the undergrowth. With each new chapter I moved further away from where I knew I should be heading. I discovered new plot holes. No matter, I thought, I’ll just go around them. Just keep going – the mantra of the first draft. So I did, until the story got so convoluted, so full of new characters and sub-plots that I would have to stop for months at a time, just to ponder how I could get out of each narrative straightjacket I had written myself in to.

When the going gets tough . . .

I spent more time away from the book, dashing off short stories, pondering a new idea for a novel, and all the time my WIP was taunting – You’ll never finish! So, just shy of 80,000 words, I’ve ground to a halt. My faith in the story lies in tatters, my resolve scattered in the wind of self-doubt. It’s inaccurate to even call the novel my WIP – it hasn’t really been ‘a work in progress‘ for some time.

I have discovered the hard way that I’m not a hardened ‘pantser’. Sure, I can fly by the seat of my pants during a scene – inventing dialogue and being surprised by the actions of a character – but I need to have a plan and some kind of final destination to keep me on track.

Decisions, decisions . . .

Now, I feel I have a three choices. Firstly, I can press on, write through the pain and get to the end of the draft, even if that means the story makes no sense. Or I could go back to the now infamous Chapter 43, finish my chapter plan, outline the novel to a satisfying conclusion and put aside the last 25,000 words to begin writing again. Or . . . and here’s the crunch question . . . shall I just draw a line under the whole project, quit and move on to the new idea that I have been considering for several months?

Having read K.M Weiland’s excellent ‘Outlining Your Novel’, I feel better prepared to start something new, but before I can move on I think I need closure on Let Sleeping Gods Lie – ironically, I need to let it lie. For a long time I thought the only way I could get that closure was to finish the first draft. Now, I’m not so sure. Time is at a premium. Shall I just cut my losses and admit defeat? See those 80,000 words as a learning experience?

I am taking a few days to make my final decision, but would love to hear your thoughts and advice. Have you had a similar experience? Are you battling with a WIP? Is there ever an excuse to quit? Comment below or tweet me @Mrkelly2u.

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8 thoughts on “The Novel Dilemma – When should you quit your WIP?

  1. Wayne,
    First I must say how great it is that you have (almost) written a novel. I do one of two things when the going gets tough:
    1) Take a break from the problem project, say a month, and work on something else,
    2) Continue to plot the story in explanatory paragraphs/notes (this mundane process sometimes sparks the odd creative fire).
    If neither of these appeal/work and you choose to leave it behind don’t feel guilty. My first full length novel will never see the light of day, but I regard it fondly as experience. I have often worked on two projects simultaneously as well, if the creative flow insisted upon it, so there’s another option! Whatever you choose I wish you the very best.
    Elaine

    1. Thanks for taking the time to reply, Elaine. I have had lots of ‘breaks’ with this novel so I don’t think I can justify any more of those and not call it ‘procrastination’. The second option is definitely worth considering, although I do think I will need to go back to the point in my novel where I think the story got broken, rather than just pushing on.

  2. Heh, when this post came up in my reader I nearly choked! I didn’t know you’d started blogging again. 🙂

    Okay . . . my thoughts?
    I’m a stubborn type, so I’d be included to finish the novel if it were me. Even if it were only to say I’d done so. It may never see the light of day, but somehow the act of finishing something is just as satisfying (if not more so) than anything else. So of the two options I favour, lose the last 24k like you mentioned, get on with your outline, then get going! I see little point in ‘pushing through the agony’ when you know it’s not where you want to be. They won’t be ‘wasted’ words, but they won’t contribute to the novel the way you hope.

    I’m yet to dump a novel utterly, feeling I couldn’t fix it. I may have dumped a finished first draft, but never yet an incomplete first draft. So that’s just me.

    …though… if you keep the new project as a carrot on a stick you may even be able to finish the novel draft faster. :p

    1. Yes – no blogs for 18 months and then 2 come along at once! It’s part of my new writing regime that I’m trying to post regularly again.

      All very good advice, Leah and I am still flapping in the breeze of indecision on this. There is a part of me that isn’t sure I could psychologically move on knowing that I hadn’t at least typed ‘The End’.

  3. I know where you’re coming from…I’ve actually dumped two novels because I got stuck! Or did I just get bored?

    I can see it from both points of view.

    What you need is the motivation to finish it, and if its not enough to know it’ll be finished, what about the suggested, taking it back to where it all went wrong, then doing a proper outline for it?

    Alternatively, draw a line under it by all means, BUT, I live with the guilt of doing that and make myself feel better by saying, ‘I’ll revisit one day, and I’ll finish it.’

    What I do about things when I’m in doubt, is to get a piece of A4 paper and a pen, and draw a line downwards to divide the paper in two, then write at the top of one half, ‘Reasons to Continue,’ and in the other half, ‘Reasons to Quit’ then be very honest with yourself as you sit quietly for twenty minutes plus…

    There is something to be said for persistence, but you may have more energy for a new adventure?

    Write freely, and without censor, I’d say follow your heart. At the end, add up, or weigh up, the pro’s and cons, on the paper, and you should have your answer.

    Good luck.

    Maria

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