In past issues of this guide we’ve covered the novel writing process, from concept and planning, through the first draft and up to the last bits of editing before you put the “Finished” stamp on it.
Today I’m talking to you about another part of the process, one you don’t want to think about, ever. It’s the hardest thing we as authors can do, Walking Away.
I know that sounds like giving up, but walking away can be healthy and in fact, there are two different walks. I’ve been through one of them and the other is present in my mind and is one I’m not looking forward to but willing to do should it come to that.
Walking Away from a Concept
The first thing I knew about my novel was the character’s name. Before I decided on genre, I knew Jason Wisher would be my protagonist and I knew what kind of a person he was. But I hadn’t built his world.
I originally envisioned that as a post-human society, the entire world affected by a global phenomenon that turns humans into elementals. I call it post-human because after the event no one was Homo sapiens anymore. The entire world turned into element-wielders. Chaos would follow but out of it a new order, with a new police force. My character would be part of it.
But the concept had a flaw. As law enforcement, and to ensure the character didn’t toe thin lines of legality and criminal behaviour—which goes back to me as I am an extremely legal person—his options were limited. There were investigative avenues that he couldn’t take, because he was a by-the-book character. An independent contractor might be able to flaunt rules more defiantly and openly but a cop shouldn’t.
I already had a concept planned for the first novel and beyond, but when it came to the writing I was stuck. I knew where the investigation had to go but because of the restrictions I’d placed on the character and his narrative, I couldn’t push forward. In looking for an answer, I questioned the very nature of my new world, of the people in it, how do they maintain control and I came up short on answers.
I decided to walk away from that world. I still kept the characters and some ideas but I scrapped that sci-fi world. I started to think on what would fit the type of story I wanted to tell, the character I wanted to develop, and the moment I opened myself to new concepts and having discarded the previous one, I found the answer in Urban Fantasy. The pieces came together and I had explanations for everything. It was a cohesive and consistent world. The rules worked in-universe and my character had many more avenues and opportunities not only for investigations but also for growth.
Walking away from a concept is a tough decision, but if things aren’t working. If you can’t answer the hard questions about your world, if you can’t explain everything or if the story just isn’t going anywhere under the rules you’ve established, then it might be time to say goodbye to this concept. Keep as much as you can, but open yourself to changes and new ideas.
I kept character names and ethnicity for mine, but their roles and even species changed.
It’s not an easy choice, but it might be the one you need to make to find the world you want to and should write. I’m not a believer in inspiration, muses and writer’s block. Hard work is all there is, but you can’t force creativity and imagination. If the concept stifles you and makes the writing process harder than it already is, then perhaps it’s not worth it. Perhaps it’s the wrong concept or even genre.
You just need to recognize that it’s time to move on.
Walking Away from a Manuscript
This is the hard one, the truly hard one, and not one you come to lightly—or at all. I only became aware of it after reading a blog post made by an author.
In the previous guide I spoke to you about all the editing process, of getting through your work to streamline, improve, optimise and generally do everything in your power to make your novel the best it can be.
If you choose to look for representation or for a publisher, be prepared for rejection. I still remember the first rejection letter I received and one day I’ll frame it. As many will tell you, it’s a very subjective business and what someone likes another will definitely hate.
Why am I telling you this? Because after each rejection you’ll undoubtedly try to fix something in your novel, that one thing you’re sure was the reason the agent/publisher rejected you. And you’ll do so with neurotic abandon.
But there’s only so much you can fix, only so much you can scrape off.
There comes a time when you have to look at your manuscript and put it aside, walking away from it and towards other ventures. If there’s a fantastic story in your head waiting to be told, don’t let the quest for publication stop you from doing it. If one manuscript is getting nowhere, then you might need to consider letting go and focus your energies on a new project and then try to get that one published.
Don’t Give up too early
Or at all, is what I’d like to say.
I know I’ve just spoken to you about giving up and packing up and leaving things. But you should never do it lightly. Never do it without fighting. Only do so when you’ve reached the point where you’re not getting anywhere, either with the concept or the querying.
And before you decide to give up on the manuscript altogether, maybe you should consider independent publishing. Is it something you’re interested in; is it something you can afford? If the answer’s yes, the maybe that’s the road you should take.
But if not, then maybe it’s time to let it go.
I had originally intended on this being the last guide for this series, but as I’ve written and as is always the case, I’ve had more ideas. This will be the last on the process, however, unless I get a request to cover a specific part of it. Future guides will be more about storytelling itself, my advice on handling different types of scenes.
As always, I hope this has been of some help.