Monday, January 16, 2012

When/why do you abandon an idea?

This week the lucky thirteens are answering this toughie:

When/Why do you abandon an idea?

This is a question that has been painfully close to my heart as I work on my second novel. I have given up on novels before, and it isn't fun. I didn't want to give up onthis one – I'd already spent three months writing 30,000 words – but was it worth finishing? Would anyone want to read it?

On top of worries about whether or not the book was worth writing, there was – in my mind at least – a flicking calendar. For the first time in my writing career (which technically began three months ago) I didn't have all the time in the world. My deadline is December. But, I asked myself time and again, should it really be this hard?

Before I finished my first novel, INFINITE SKY, I had started two other novels. One was a dystopian story set in Cornwall, the other a story about some damaged people living by cliff tops, that had something to with religion. If my descriptions are a bit vague it's because I barely know what I'm talking about.

After between five and forty thousand (Yep. Forty.) these two fledgling novels died a death. I didn't know what they were about. There was no momentum within the stories. I had nothing to say. There was no urgency. Even I couldn't be bothered to write it, which meant nobody would want to read it. Eventually, reluctantly, and with more than a little relief, I gave up. (For the record, I looked back at these four or five year old documents recently and was astounded by how little of worth there was in them. Phew!)

INFINITE SKY was the first novel that I completed. It was the first novel to have its own momentum, not immediately, but before too long. Quite early on in the draft, I knew with a certainty I hadn’t felt before that I would complete it. Whether it would sell or not, or appeal to anyone, I had no idea. But there was a kind of force to it. All I had to do was write.

That's not to say I didn't go for weeks without writing a word, or that I didn't get lost and confused along the way. It's not to say I didn't frequently have to put the novel aside well before noon just to take a little disheartened nap. But I couldn't give up on it. There was a story, and even if I didn't know what it was yet, this story had an ending. I just had to get there and find out what it was.

This time, everything's different. I have a publisher for this book, as I sold INFINITE SKY as part of a two book deal. And I have a deadline. Someone out there actually cares what I'm writing. This is mind blowing to me, after eight years of quite the opposite.

The conclusion I have come to - after much freewriting and reading and worrying about why this book is not coming together - is that I have to find a whole new way to write this novel. Just because I have written one, does not mean I now have a template for novel-writing. Alas.

But what was it that made me realise that this book deserved to be written? How did I realise that I’m not just wasting my time? How do I know I shouldn’t just cut my losses and think up a different idea?

My characters.

From very early on, the three of them seemed to live. They had a rapport that moved me and made me laugh. They had thoughts and ideas of their own, and hopes and dreams. I could see their relationships to each other and how these were going to change as the story went on. Those two novels I abandoned years ago? They didn't have this.

I still don’t know exactly what my second novel is about. I'm not sure where it is set. I can’t yet talk about it confidently or with any clarity. But I want to know what becomes of my characters. I want to know what happened to them to make them the way that they are. Those funny, hurt, hopeful little beings that they are. Already I am falling in love with them, and I think that other people will too.

Chelsey Flood writes short stories, plays and novels. Her first novel INFINITE SKY comes out with Simon and Schuster in February next year.

Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog.


  1. I've abandoned ideas if I knew another book's themes were way too close. I've got a handful of those!

  2. I feel like I never truly abandon a novel, just maybe trunk it until I am inspired again or find a new purpose for the story. I've definitely tried to abandon several projects, and they always come back. It's hard for me to work on new things when I've got old potential waiting!

  3. Thanks for this great post, Chelsey! I have an abandoned draft of a YA novel (the whole thing--all 65,000 words of it) that will probably never see the light of day, and at first it was awfully hard to put it aside. But I didn't have the proper tools to tell that story yet, and I'm hoping that someday I'll be able to come back to it and hammer the story idea into shape. Until then, though, I'm glad to abandon books that aren't working in favor of books that grab me and won't let go.

  4. I've abandoned 2 novels – one that I re-wrote three times before I finally faced up to the fact that it wasn't working! I think I knew all along, really, that it was doomed, but I didn't want to admit it was failing. I might come back to it one day, though – at least to recycle some of the characters or ideas – so I don't think of it as being a waste of time.

  5. Thanks for sharing your failed novel stories! I think it's good to admit how not always easy writing is. Besides, I want every novel to feel different. I think it shows development and the fact that as a writer you're still invested, not getting lazy or just using tricks to make a kind of novel by numbers. As for my first attempts, they really are dead. I hope yours, Caroline, Emma and Jo can be resurrected.

    Thanks for reading!