What To Do When Your Novel Just Isn’t Working

Alternate title: Doing Things The Hard Way

Another alternate title: When You Want To Pull Out Your Hair Due To Your Current Writing Project

I’ve been having trouble with my novel recently (more on this later on in the post) and that made me think of some other things from my life. Observe:

  • When I decided to learn a musical instrument, I chose the violin. Now, I realize playing an instrument is always hard, but violin is probably harder than most because there’s no guide for where to put your fingers. You just have to practice a lot until you get a feel for it. And by “practice a lot,” I mean you have to play for years before this becomes second nature.
  • When I decided to learn a foreign language, I didn’t choose one that is in the same language family as English (like German) or at least had a big influence on English (like French). No, I chose Russian, which isn’t even written in the same alphabet we use in English!
  • When I decided I wanted to go into business, I chose one of the more difficult fields: finance. Not only that, but I started studying it at the masters level and did a condensed program that meant I took almost twice the usual credits a typical graduate student at my school took all while studying a brand-new subject and searching for a job.

I list all of this not to brag, but to show that I seem to like doing things the hard way. Therefore, it probably won’t surprise you that when I went to write a book—and I mean a serious attempt with the aim of publishing it someday—I chose to do a series instead of a standalone novel.

Let me make a few things clear: first, writing any book is hard. Period. But I think certain books are harder than others. In general, non-fiction is easier to write than fiction, and fiction in a series is harder than fiction that is standalone. Why is the latter true? Because aside from juggling all the characters and plot threads and plot developments in one book, you have to make sure that the series itself has an overall arc. In the Harry Potter series, each book has its own plot development and resolution, but each book as a whole also contributes to one massive overarching storyline. It’s enough to make your head want to explode.

This brings me to the main point of the post: I’m having a lot of trouble with my current manuscript, the second novel in a science fiction trilogy. By trouble, I mean that the whole thing didn’t feel right the entire time I was outlining, and now that I’m writing, it doesn’t feel right, either. I’m sorry I can’t be more descriptive, but that’s a lot of what writing is for me: there’s a certain feel to certain things you do. Basically, my intuition is telling me something’s wrong.

I think there are several things at work here contributing to my novel troubles. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Writing a series is really hard, so maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew at this point. After all, I’m not a writer with decades of experience. Even experienced writers struggle with plotting and then properly executing a series, I’d imagine.
  2. My story idea may not be a good fit for a series. As in, I may be stretching an idea out into three books that could be better covered in one or two.
  3. I’m not fully finished with edits on the first book, so I’m kind of jumping the gun by moving onto the second book. My subconscious realizes this and is resisting my efforts.

There may be other problems, too, that I don’t see, but for the moment, this is what I’ve come up with.

So what can one do about this? Here’s my plan. First, I’m going to continue to edit the first book in my series (though theoretically it may become a standalone novel, but we’ll see). I need to do some structural changes, then hopefully I’ll be able to talk about the book with someone else because after a while, it is so hard to evaluate your own work.

Second, I’m going to work on something completely different. Editing is so difficult that I can only do a certain amount before my eyeballs want to fall out, so when I’m not editing or working or doing my other hobbies, I’m going to outline and write a fun novel. It isn’t set in this same science fiction world. If you really want to know, I’m kind of tired of science fiction right now! (I never thought I’d say that, but editing has a way of making one tired of just about anything.) For me, fun books involve spies, Russia, and good things like that, so that’s all I’m going to say about this other project. Oh, and I’m trying out an awesome new outlining method using Excel (you can do a Google search for this if you’re interested because there are ton of good posts out there explaining how to do it) that seems to be working well so far.

Will I accomplish my goal of publishing something this year? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s still the beginning of the year, so I have hope of getting a halfway decent manuscript by the end of 2016, but I don’t know if that will happen or not. The only thing I know for sure is I’m doing my best not to stress about it. This whole experience I’ve described in this post has been a bit stressful, but I don’t want writing to be stressful. Ultimately, I want writing to be something I enjoy. It’s been great fun for me in the past and I want it to be fun again.