As much as I think it is a cop out, and I think it tarnishes their legacies, I can totally relate to bestselling authors who give up on their work too soon and send it out to be published as is.
I’m working on my third novel right now—the one I abandoned as recently as two weeks ago— and realize I have no perspective on it. Sure, my eyes are fresher than they were right after I finished, but I think I’ve lost perspective on my novel writing as a whole. I think that’s why I was so eager to jump into a new kind of novel and not try to fix the novel I’ve already got sitting in front of me. Luckily I’ve got a wife with little tolerance for my crap. She couldn’t understand why I would waste five months writing a novel, during which she could barely see me, and tell her I though this was The One, and then just give up on it. She had a point, but see, I always think the one I’m working on is the best thing I’ve ever written (with the exception of one book I knew was wrong right from the start). And then when I’m done with it, I’m immediately convinced it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written.
So I took some time away from it. People suggested having someone else read it which, in theory is a good idea, but of little help. I’ve had people read my stuff in the past and I know the ones I can send it to who will tell me it’s good and I know the ones I can send it to who will tell me it’s bad. But I don’t want to send it to anyone right after I’ve finished it because I write VERY rough drafts and wouldn’t want to subject anyone to that. This weekend though, I jumped back into the book and finished doing what I’ve always done before. I read through the rough draft and write up an outline of all of the chapters I have. This helps me not only remember things I wrote in the beginning and then forgot about, but helps me see holes in my plot. It’s also a great way to carry the entire plot of the book around in my head while I think things through. During the first draft of a book I’m very wild and free but once that draft is done, I turn into a hardcore outline junky.
After I did my outline, I was convinced I could fix it and had all sorts of great ideas for new plot twists and character development and all of that. But this is the same feeling I had three months ago when I was writing the stuff that I’m now cutting from the book. And this is the same feeling I had a year ago when I was outlining and revising my second book. And people read that book and said it was good and agents read it and said it was good and then nothing happened. I think this is a good book and I think it’s better than the previous two but I’m starting to think I don’t have a friggin’ clue what I’m talking about. But all I can do is trudge forward and try my best to do what I know how to do to make this as good as I think it can be. From the outline I compiled and the three pages of notes I took on things to work on some common weaknesses have started to appear.
First, I have too many characters that go off on threads that serve no purpose to the main story. Second, some characters have little or no motivation for doing what they do. And third, my detective is handed key pieces of information instead of finding them himself. I think realizing this is a good sign and I’m pretty sure I know how to fix them. I just hope it’s all enough because I don’t know how much more energy I have left in me for this.