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When do you give up on a novel? March 24, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Writing.

Writing a novel is, not surprisingly, hard. Figuring out what to do with a novel you’ve written and rewritten several times is even harder. That’s where I’m at right now, with a question creeping into my thoughts: can I just let this novel go and move on to something new?

I’ve always loved the idea of “Summer of ’94,” and the description I wrote of it for a writing workshop several years ago still applies after several drafts:
Naïve and innocent Sara Sanders moves to Chicago after college graduation to start her first job and be near the ruling passion of her life, the Chicago Cubs. Real life hits hard as Sara endures the sudden retirement of her baseball idol, the changing friendship with her two best friends from college, a job she doesn’t really like and a boss who annoys her, plus the possibility of a baseball strike that threatens the one comfort she does have. Ultimately feeling betrayed by everything around her once the baseball strike occurs in mid-August, Sara struggles to figure out what she needs to do now.

I want that description to still apply, anyway. The biggest problem after the first draft remains the problem after the latest one: the story is more like “Bridget Jones Moves to Chicago” instead of being reminiscent of “Field of Dreams” and “The Catcher in the Rye” like I’ve always envision. From the start, I intended for Kyle, the boss, to be a jerk and for he and Sara to clash. He’s the baseball realist to her hopeless romantic, the one who should be smashing all her illusions about what the real world she’s been waiting for really is like. Except that’s not the case. Oh, sure, Kyle will occasionally say sort-of jerky things. But the way he ultimately acts toward Sara, the interaction between them, completely backs up what I learned at Bret Anthony Johnston’s writing workshop: any time there are a man and a woman interacting in a story, there is automatically sexual tension. Further, Sara and Kyle – though I won’t let them admit it – are really interested in each other. I tried to write everything possible to get away from that obvious point. Yet it dominates the story. And that’s fine, but it’s not what I want the story to be. It’s supposed to be about Sara’s interest in baseball.

Or maybe I don’t know what I want the story to be any more. Maybe I’ve added too many other elements into it. Only one person has ever read any of the drafts, my friend Linda a couple years ago. She had wonderful suggestions about what was missing, and I’ve added those parts in. Yet I’m still not thrilled with it. There are still many holes, many problems.

I’ve learned much in writing and rewriting these drafts. I’ve become a better writer. At times, I’ve put this novel aside and started on others, and it’s all been an education. The idea of shelving “Summer of ’94” for good seems surprising – I’ve put so much effort and energy into it, for many years now. Can I really abandon it?

Trying to answer that question also is where I get stuck. There are no rules for doing this, and I’m very much a by-the-rules person. (All those years of Catholic school, where I actually listened and believed what I was taught, had an impact.) I do better when there’s a step-by-step process – looking up the “Couch to 5K” program whenever I start running again, for example, or joining Weight Watchers when I originally wanted to lose weight. Do this, get these results, move forward.

I followed what I knew was the process for writing a novel – sit down and write and write and write, read through the whole draft, figure out the flaws and rewrite. And, as there are rules for the publication process, I know I need to have a version that I am really confident in before I can look for an agent. But what about when you’re not confident, even after several drafts?

How do you know when it’s okay to say to yourself “This story just isn’t going to work” and move on to create something totally new and different that will?



1. linda suring - March 24, 2010

Boy, I’m continually amazed at how willing you are to put yourself out there!

You know me – when your passion turns into just another obligation on your list, another rule that has to be followed, (as opposed to a less-attractive-step-in-a-process that is still driven by your passion) then it’s time to let it go. Maybe not forever. But surely for now.

Move on to what energizes you. That’s what it’s about.

Christine Coleman - March 24, 2010

But I *like* rules! 🙂 However, I don’t like something that’s “just another obligation.”

Thank you, though. I definitely want to be energized and haven’t felt that way lately with this.

2. lsmurphy - March 24, 2010

I think you need to take a step back from it and look at the story for what it is and not what you want it to be. Characters tend to take on a life of their own no matter how hard we try to tell them what to do.
Ask yourself “Is this a good story?” If the answer is yes, and I’m betting it is, then why are you unhappy with it?
I disagree with the romance aspect. You can have two characters that don’t fall for each other. It is possible. But is sounds like Sara needed something positive in her life, even if it was unwanted, and Kyle was there.
Maybe you should also seek out a few more critique readers. That may help you see what you aren’t seeing or don’t want to see. Or it may help you see that your story is far better than you realize!
Personally, I’m never confident. I’ve only started putting myself out there and it’s terrifying. But you have to try or you’ll never be satisfied.
Happy Writing. Good Luck.

Christine Coleman - March 24, 2010

Thank you – you have given me many good things to think about. Your input is valuable. And are you volunteering to be one of the readers??? 🙂

3. Angela - March 24, 2010

When my kids write, they get stuck a lot. Usually they start writing something, then forget what the point is and end up going in a whole new direction without realizing it. When they finish and read through, they quickly get frustrated because they don’t know how to ‘get back’ to what they wanted to say. Sometimes I’ll give them a thought or two, but usually I have them sit down with someone that doesn’t know what the story is supposed to be about. What I’ve seen happen is that kids will either scrap the back half and start over, or they’ll change a bit of the earlier portions to make it fit the back end better.

I think you’re to the point where you either have to decide what you want – do you want the story to be your original vision, or are you okay with letting it morph into it’s own idea that isn’t quite what you started with?

I will say this though – you obviously enjoy writing. You do it because you love it. If you don’t love working on this, then step back for awhile. That’s okay too. If you love working on it and love writing it, then keep going! 🙂

Christine Coleman - March 25, 2010

Thanks, Angela. Your teaching wisdom extends far beyond seventh graders! Your second paragraph is something I’m thinking about – could it be OK as not what I originally intended it to be?

I added a link to your blog here. I enjoy reading them so much, and admire your tenacity in pursuing such an ambitious project.

4. Riverfront ramblings « Christine Coleman - May 5, 2010

[…] to find my blog. This doesn’t happen regularly, and most have been some variation on “when to give up writing a novel.” Then there are these two searches from the past couple days: shirtless pics of chris […]

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