Have you ever started writing a novel, gotten partway through and stopped, abandoning the creation to a lonely shelf or a rarely accessed computer file? Perhaps yoy disposed of or deleted it? I totally wouldn’t know anything about this, as it’s only happened to me three times.
More recently I spent an ungodly amount of my spare time over the course of the last year working on a manuscript, which I now consider complete. I’ll likely make some revisions still (I’m awaiting a professional critique), and I don’t know if I’ll sell a single book. But I do know that if nothing else I’ll put a finished book out there. However if you’re struggling with stopping and starting, worry not because you’re not alone. It’s a pretty common experience; many aspiring writers get to some early-to-middle point as they are drafting and hear a little voice in their head telling them their draft is no good. This was a voice I certainly heard during both the earlier unfinished attempts I made to write novels, the one I did finish, and I hear it with as I write the novella I’m working on now. It’s easy to be intimidated by this voice. It says: this is kind of a weird idea you have, isn’t it? Who cares about this character or that one? Why do you think this premise you have is going to be interesting to other people? Well there are three simple truths that can get you past this doubting voice that I’m going to go through right here.
The first simple truth about writing is that almost any idea for a novel could potentially be turned into something worth reading. Sure, your draft probably has a lot of room for improvement, as the working drafts of even the best authors do. But it is exceedingly rare that a premise for a novel couldn’t become a book that had some good qualities. Even a goofy premise can make for an enjoyable book (see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). That’s not to say all premises are created equal; there’s a spectrum from barely viable to absolutely great, with almost every book’s premise being somewhere in between.
Consider the premises of two of the most successful book franchises ever: Harry Potter and Jurassic Park. Imagine with each of those books that it was two months before they were published, and like most people you would have no way of knowing how wildly popular each of those books would turn out to be. If you simply heard the premise for each one you would probably think it was something a twelve year old came up with. Dinosaurs brought back to life on an island? A boy wizard who goes to a special wizarding school? Would you have guessed that either would become a literary juggernaut? Probably not. And yet these seemingly juvenile premises could become just that. This shows that what the premise is doesn’t matter as much as what you do with it, what you create around it. After all the premise of cloned dinosaurs and a boy wizard have been insanely successful.
The second simple truth about writing is closely related: there is no problem with your draft that can’t be fixed. You as the author can get past any problem from a flaw in the presentation of a character to a massive plot hole or a clumsy deus ex machina. It is possible to solve any of these things as a writer if you think enough about what the problem is and how you’re going to resolve it. There is an infinite array of tools at your disposal. Within your writing you are the most powerful deity ever; the Greek Gods and Goddesses could kill a person, but you can make it so a person never even existed! You can change so many different things in so many ways that a solution is always possible.
Problems with your novel can seem daunting. I had one night where I was really stuck on a few plot issues and walked around a bookstore thinking about them for hours. It took a while, but eventually I hit on appropriate solutions. It wasn’t because I have some special brilliance but because I knew that if I just kept thinking about it I’d think of some sort of solution.
The third simple truth about writing naturally flows from these two: the most important factor is to never give up. To just keep believing that you can eventually create of some kind of work of good literature. This isn’t just starry-eyed optimism, it’s the logical conclusion of these other two truths above. You’ve almost surely got a premise for something that can be made into a great book. You’ve got an endless variety of ways you can work to improve, expand or contract the book. It follows that if you keep using the needed tools to build around that premise with potential you’ll create something worth reading. If you’re stuck, considering abandoning a draft, or maybe dusting one off that you had abandoned, then keep at it. You’ll eventually turn the page, and probably if you put enough into it then somebody who reads your book will too.