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Walking Away From an Unfinished Novel

Sometimes, it’s okay to walk away from a novel. This has taken me some time to learn. I have a history of starting things I never finished, the most memorable is a blanket that sat in a box for over a decade.

When I first started writing, I was petrified the same thing would happen. I didn’t want my dream to end in a half finished first draft. I put my all into it. And I finished it. In fact, I finished just about everything that got a good, healthy start, with a few ten page ideas floating around. As a pantser, ten pages is essentially my idea board.

Earlier this year I attempted to plot my very first novel. I made it to the halfway point and the chemistry between my characters—and me—fizzled. I could no longer push forward. I tried, but in the end I guessed the plotting ruined the wonder of the “what will happen?”

In hindsight, I can find several different theories, so I may attempt plotting again one day.

After this fail, I was scared to try again. But I let a new story speak to me, and I made it all the way to the finish line! Yay! Relief!

For those in the know, currently we are in NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) where writers pledge to write 50,000 words in a month. Novembers are notoriously difficult for me, but this one appeared to be a little tamer than years past, and I was in-between projects, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Now, I know I can complete a novel in about 4-6 weeks, that’s my usual drafting phase. So I knew I could win NaNoWriMo. I came up with my idea and got started.

Life got in the way, as life does. I continued pushing forward, but each word was painful. I tried to tell myself it was okay not to “win.” But, dammit, I wanted to win!

I got to 30k, and things started to click into place. I got some ideas brewing for my characters. Yes! The magic was starting! I finished a scene and: brick wall. Now, I don’t mean writer’s block. I mean the story wasn’t flowing for me. I had a clear idea where the story needed to head, but no desire to get there.

What good was I doing to myself by forcing out a story I no longer wanted to write? I gave myself a break and decided to pick up another story idea.

Right from the start: magic. I fell in love with the concept, in love with the characters. I felt like I had arrived home. And suddenly my word count goal for the day wasn’t a struggle anymore.

I realized the original story I attempted was very different for me and what I usually write. It wasn’t comfortable and—at least for now—wasn’t the right focus of my attention. And that’s okay. Seriously. I have an idea half written for future me to look into again. Or maybe I’m just learning where my niche is and what will and will not work for me.

Writers are always learning, always discovering new things about themselves and their crafts. I’ve learned it’s okay to put down an unfinished draft. It’s okay to walk away from a project. I didn’t have to give up on NaNoWriMo. I just had to find the right novel to help me finish the month.

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