The Novel Dilemma: Story No Longer Relevant … Now What?

Snoopy writingWhat happens if you discover your novel-in-progress is no longer relevant? Do you let it go and start a new project, or re-work your story and characters?

I ask because I’VE hit such a dilemma, and I’m turning to you for answers. I may be an experienced article-writer, journalist, and copywriter … but the world of novels is new to me.

Here’s the Deal

I began writing my work-in-progress about two years ago. It initially began as a way to vent certain life frustrations. I never took it seriously, because my “serious writing” was devoted to my journalism.

Yet, a year into sporadically writing this book, I began looking at my creative writing differently. I began getting SERIOUS. I stopped reading just for fun, and found myself re-reading certain classics and breaking them down, like my old high school days of AP English. I started this blog (Rogue Writer), and began reading other blogs of published authors willing to share a tip or two.

That’s when I realized just how much I still had to learn … at least when it came to creative writing.

Now, I’m Stuck

I’m stuck because, after two years of self-improvement and hardcore fictional short story writing, I realized my novel is no longer relevant. I can now stare at my work with a critical eye, and I realized it may not measure up. However, I’ve grown so close to my characters (I know that sounds kinda schizophrenic, but I’m sure you can relate), that I couldn’t imagine letting them go.

Their needs, their hopes are just too dang important.

Plus, what about all that time I’d dedicated to writing the current chapters? To brooding over the ins-and-outs of the characters’ quirks? The daydreaming of my novel becoming the next THE HELP or HUNGER GAMES, minus the trilogy?

I’ve Contemplated …

  • Re-working the central story; this would entail re-writing many of the chapters, and possibly taking out certain conflicts that were vital to the original story.
  • Shelving it and starting a new project (although, I’m not sure what that would be). Maybe later, I could return to this book after reaching success with another project.

Those are really the only two solutions I could muster.

What Would YOU Do?

Since many of you are serious writers (some published), maybe you could offer some advice. What would you do in my situation? Or perhaps … have you already dealt with this novel dilemma?

19 responses to “The Novel Dilemma: Story No Longer Relevant … Now What?”

  1. I’m curious why you think it’s not irrelevant. It may be that way to you, but maybe not so to others. Maybe trust your writing and get a first draft done. Then take a look – or share with a writers group – to determine if it’s truly irrelevant and you need to make changes.

  2. I agree with Ariana. Others probably will find your story, now irrelevant to you, important (and enjoyable) to their lives. So, now that some time has passed, have you made a decision to “deepen” the story? That alone might rekindle your interest and commitment to it.

    Love what your father says, BTW.

    Excuse me if my comment is incoherent, Shari. It’s the heat . . . the heat.

  3. Oh–I am have the same situation. I sort of swore of fiction for the past year, but now I find myself thinking about the full manuscript that once upon a time made some rounds with agents. It would need TONS of rewriting… like major overhaul, not just “revising.” The question is–Am I up for it?

    not sure.

    1. I’m going to tell you what my dad recently told me with my situation. “Time will bring all the answers. Just give it some more time.” He always seems to be right. LOL! I think if you tinker with the idea for the next few weeks, you will realize if you’re up for it, or not. Thanks for understanding! It’s such a tough spot to be in, I swear.

  4. Shari, your story may not be relevant to you, but it may be relevant to your readers – did you think about letting your close ones to read what you wrote so far and listen to their opinion?

    1. Great point, Ariana. I actually have had some trusted writing friends do some reviewing and all. Maybe “relevant” wasn’t the best word. I just think I realized my initial plot/conflict wasn’t deep enough. There wasn’t enough at stake. But in fact, talking it over again and again with my boyfriend has really helped me. I think I got some new clarity! Thanks for weighing in. 🙂

  5. I’ve been in the same place. I worked on a novel for 6 years (countless revisions) and finally decided to let it go. I still love the characters and I may go back to it one day. For now, though, I’m letting it be a learning experience and I’m working on a new project. My new characters have captured my heart, too, so I guess we love all of our literary children. When it comes to literature, I don’t think any decision is ever final, which is both a curse and a blessing; do what feels right for now. Happy writing!

    1. “Literary children,” I love it! I have to give you props, Shary. I don’t think I’d have it in me to step away from a novel I spent 6 years on. 🙂 I really do hope you return to that project someday! Happy writing to you, too.

  6. Sometimes stepping away provides the kind of clarity you need later on down the road to approach with fresh eyes – as painful as it may seem at first. Plus, the excitement of new characters, new plots, etc. may be just the creative jolt you need to move forward in all of your writing endeavors.

    1. Thank you Melissa! Oh, how I’ve missed our interactions. LOL! I’ve had to cut back massively on the blogging lately. It’s amazing, but after stepping away for just a few weeks, I’ve already had some clarity hit. I’m feeling refreshed and excited now. 🙂

  7. I had the same issue, only a little weirder. Days before I was set to publish my first novel, a TV show came out on a popular network that was almost identical to my general idea. Instead of scrapping it, I tweaked it, added a few characters and now its a million times different and a million times better. When you fall in love with the characters you write, its hard to let them go. I’m glad I didn’t let mine go.

    1. Wow, that IS crazy! I think that would frustrate me, immensely. LOL! I’m glad you didn’t let you story and characters go, though. Thank you for reading and sharing! 🙂

  8. Hi! I just stumbled to your blog and this is a concern very near and dear to my heart.

    I am not published, but I have been writing for years. Fictional writing, to be more specific. I tend towards gritty dark fantasy/sci-fi, or spec fiction.

    I have, at last count. at least five manuscripts for full length novels, several short stories, and a multitude of ideas that have yet to find a home in words.I have four characters who I love and can hardly bear to part with, even though I’m at a stalemate with writer’s block.

    Like you said, it seems irrelevant now, the story I was telling with them. I look over what I have written so far (especially if it is the first draft) and I can hardly believe how much things suck, to be blunt. I also worry that no one will want to read it, or that the story has already been told, better, with better characters and voice.

    The thing I do when I hit that wall is this: I put it away. I walk away from that story, and start up another one. Or work on another in progress. If I can’t bear to put that story down, I hand it off to someone who I know will read it and be critical. Sometimes a good crit on even just a few paragraphs is enough to invigorate your interest and motivation. And a lot of the time, the problem is not that the story is irrelevant, but that your motivation behind it has waned.

    Let’s be honest – in fiction, stories can rarely be classified as irrelevant. If that were the case, we would not still read novels written centuries ago. We wouldn’t read Shakespeare; his stories addressed the attitudes of society during his life hundreds of years ago. No one would care about Sherlock Holmes. After all, we have advanced beyond the abilities of general observation of broad topics and delved into forensics, right?

    We still read these works because they are entertaining and thought provoking. Not because they are relevant to our lives.

    Perhaps what you need is another angle. When we put ourselves into a position where we stress over something, like writing, we tend to over-analyze things. A break from the work, a new perspective, or even a general critique can get things slotted back to working order once again.

    Personally, I usually vent off my steam by analyzing things in literature that I dislike, breaking it down, and trying to avoid doing it myself. Or I draw pictures, or play a videogame. Something to get the juices flowing, that doesn’t have me looking at my work with tunnel vision.

    Whew. Sorry for the long-windedness. Nice to meet you! You’re very well-spoken and I think I shall follow your blog.

    1. No need to apologize! This was all GREAT advice, and helps me find my way. 🙂 I like your idea of analyzing what we dislike in literature. That may help clarify a direction for me as well. I also especially liked what you said about fiction never becoming irrelevant. You are very correct in that statement; I just never considered that perspective before!

      Thank you for the wonderful advice (I can tell you put a lot of thought into it, and I REALLY appreciate that). And most of all, THANKS FOR SUBSCRIBING to my blog. That means so much; your words were very, very kind.

      Nice to meet you too!

    2. Lovely response!
      When I have writers block, I tend to do the same thing, put my work down and start over with a new project But how do you ensure productivity, or completion rather with this. I found myself doing this to much and so I have dedicated myself to just one idea. So I suppose I am asking, when do you stop and just complete something!

      I think I will follow Shari’s blog as well :), Wonderfully written post!

      1. For me, it comes down to the type of antipathy I feel toward my current work.

        If I am starting up new projects because I feel the one I am working on starts to dominate my focus while still feeling untenable, then I have no problem with turning to something else. But there are the times where I find myself just starting up project after project and leaving all of them in various stages of undone.

        Here is where the self-discipline comes in. I give myself a specific wordcount to achieve per day. I usually make myself accomplish 2000 words a day. This translates into about 1.5 to 2 hours of writing a day when my muse is flowing, but can lead to long, long stretches of time when it is not.

        The important thing here is to get the words out. No matter how bad. This is the way I punch through my writer’s block – I assault it with words. Even if I end up looking at everything I have written the next day and cutting it all olut of the story. It may feel as though the time is wasted, but it isn’t. It accomplished the task of getting me out of my nonwriting funk, and it showed me very well what absolutely will not work in my story.

        So basically, when you feel the need to complete something, there is no other cure than to make yourself do it. Writing fiction always gets you to that point, usually toward the middle of the book, where you just feel gbogged down and unable to go on. But it’s like running – eventually, it stops sucking so much and you get that runner’s high that carries you over the finish line.

        Hope that helps. Sometimes it’s hard to put my internal workings on writing into words. By the by, I highly recommend the book ‘On Writing’ by Steven King. He goes over a lot of this sort of thing, and very eloquently, too. And ‘How Not to Write a Novel’, though the author of that escapes me right now.

      2. Thank you for the advice, and I have actually read the book and I loved it. I think word count is a better limitation that page, because word count is easier.

        I do know that self-discipline is the only way, so will force myself to do something each day, even if I do delete it the following day (which is very likely), because I am at least accomplishing something each day.

        Again, Thank you so much for the advice!

        Adieu, scribbler!

  9. You can do whatever you want, you are the creator! I have ditched a lot of story lines in the past. I have also reworked my stories. Our first draft is not in stone. It is just written in words and since the advent of word processing programs on the computer, it’s even easier than ever to rewrite works in progress. If you are bored with what you’re doing, put it aside and do something different. If you want to keep working on your current project, do that.

    1. Thanks! Yes, my boyfriend says I’m limiting myself. Ha! I have to stop doing that and remind myself exactly what you said: “You can do whatever you want, you are the creator!” Yes, I am the creator (how empowering!). I’ll have to keep banging that into my head. 🙂

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