before you quit writing

4 Things You Should Know Before You Quit Writing Your Novel

4 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU QUIT WRITING YOUR NOVELYou began with high hopes.

You envisioned a bestseller, imagined touring the country and meeting thousands of fans, even your own fawning relatives.

But now you’re stuck and wondering whether you should’ve even tried in the first place.

Maybe you ran out of story and have no idea how to salvage the mess you’ve created.

Self-doubt crept in, telling you your novel was no longer worth the effort.

As the author of 195 books, I can tell you you’re not alone. What I call the Marathon of the Middle—yes, that roughly half of your manuscript between your great opener and resounding closer—is one of the toughest challenges I face too—every time.

But in truth, everything about writing a book is hard.

If you’re on the verge of quitting for any of the reasons above—or myriad others, here are four things you can do:

1. Add Conflict

When my story stalls, it almost always needs conflict, what experts call the engine of fiction. Have your characters become too agreeable?

In real life, I love pleasant conversations, getting along with everyone. But in a novel, I look for undercurrents of opposition, tension, deceit, self-possession in every line.

Ask yourself:

What problems can I create for my characters?

Better yet:

What problems can my characters create for themselves?

Conflict doesn’t have to be loud or physical. It can be as subtle as a snide comment.

“Think you can hold it together at Christmas this year?”

The question is delivered from brother to sister with the requisite smile, your character pretending to be pleasant or perhaps teasing. But we identify with the sister, don’t we, and we’re insulted.

Maybe she smiles too and says flatly, “That depends.”

You see? Just dialogue, no action, but a scene fraught with conflict. Look at all those setups that demand payoffs. What was he implying? What must have happened last year? And what was she implying? It depends on what?

All of a sudden that story percolates. Merely banal greetings would have had us nodding off. But now we’ve been set up and anticipate more to come.

2. Face Your Fear

By now you know novel writing demands discipline. We all get discouraged along the way. But don’t quit! Soldier on! If it were easy, anyone could do it.

Afraid of failing? Quitting guarantees it.

Afraid you’re not good enough? That your story doesn’t work? You’re probably right! But don’t use fear as an excuse to quit.

Rather, use that fear to motivate you to do your best work. I’ve learned to embrace those fears, because they’re valid! Even with my experience, I know the competition is fierce and that other authors likely have better ideas. But there is something I can guarantee: no one will outwork me.

Are you with me?

3. Constantly Review

Read through what you’ve written and ask yourself:

  • What works?
  • What doesn’t?
  • Which passages do you love?
  • Where does your story stall?

Be brutally honest with yourself so you can aggressively, even ferociously, self-edit to where you’re happy with every word.

4. Trust Your Gut

Whatever you feel about your story your reader will feel 10 times over. I call this Reader Multiplication Syndrome.

If you’re worried a scene might fail to keep readers interested, you’re right.  Attack and rewrite it till it works.

If you do dump a scene or even an entire manuscript, start a new one right away. You’re not quitting. You’re treating that misfire as valuable training.

I always feel like quitting at some point in the writing. It’s part of the process, an eye-opening obstacle I’ve learned to push through. You can too.

What Makes a Successful Author?

Finishing.

Just about anyone can start writing a novel. Precious few complete one.

Roll up your sleeves, get your seat in that chair, push through the Marathon of the Middle, and finish. You can do this!

If you’re looking for help writing a novel, I created an in-depth guide you can access by clicking here.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Where are you with your work-in-progress? Tell me in comments!

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About Jerry B. Jenkins | @JerryBJenkins

Jerry B. Jenkins is a 21-time New York Times bestselling novelist (the Left Behind series) and biographer (Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Billy Graham, and many others) with sales of over 70 million copies. He shares his little-known writing secrets with aspiring authors at JerryJenkins.com through in-depth guides (like this one on how to publish a book).

Comments

  1. Liz Coward says:

    Thank you for your blog. It was very encouraging. The only time I had writers block was when I’d sold my unfinished manuscript so fear can strike at any time. What kept me going was the knowledge that if I never finished Blood and Bandages, the stories of the RAMC men that I’d come to love and respect, would remain untold. Do you want the voices of the characters you have come to love and respect remain unheard?

  2. Katie’s blog has a knack for usually being just what I need to hear. I’m past the midpoint in final editing on my current work, and I’ve gone color-blind and tone-deaf. Seems like I’ve been with the story so long I don’t understand it anymore. My head, backed up by all the writing knowledge I’ve scraped together in past years, tells me it isn’t the trash my heart says it is, so that’s something, but I’m used to working with an overflow of passion and energy, so something feels missing. It’s been an exercise in soldiering forward on discipline instead of enthusiasm, and I can’t say I’m not benefiting from it. 😛
    Thank you for this, sir. *salutes* It was a much-needed encouragement.

  3. Ahh! I’m on about my 6th revision/rewrite/self-edit of my first novel. Have three other creative non-fiction devotionals out. This is an entirely new, 50-first-dates experience! The story has grown, through the revision and layering process, from about 55k to 87k words and from about 200 pages to just over 300. And I still have a ways to go. When I feel like quitting, I remind myself that this story about 2 brave veterans and their families encountering God in the midst of a ferocious storm, both inside and out, must be told. And no one can tell it but me, because the characters haven’t told anyone else their story…only me. So, here’s to soldiering on.

    • Jerry B. Jenkins says:

      Interesting, Deb, that I mentioned “soldiering on” in my reply to the first commenter, and you are the second one to use the same metaphor since then (but before I had answered the first, if that makes any sense). The point is, there’s a theme at work here. Soldiering on, sticking with it, is what we’re all about. Brava!

  4. This post was just the kick in the butt that I needed. Thank you, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

  5. K.M. Weiland says:

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Jerry!

  6. Constant review can cause more trouble than it helps, if you’re still working on finishing the book. Very helpful when it comes to revising and editing, though!

  7. Casandra Merritt says:

    Can you suggest a way to keep things interesting throughout the first act if the Inciting Event happens near the end, right before the Key Event?

    • Jerry B. Jenkins says:

      That’d be hard, Casandra, without seeing your specific story. But it’s encouraging that you recognize the importance of keeping things interesting even before and between major plot points. An undercurrent of conflct, innuendo, and subtext always adds tension. And tension keeps me turning the pages–lots of setups that demand payoffs.

  8. Oh, right now I’m in the vary & escalate phase for a conflict in my third novel (I’ve been writing the trilogy to release all at once). Two of the characters are obliged to work together, one is a formerly evil villainess, a princess who has done a heel-face-turn (going from the negative disillusion arc in the second book, to a more positive arc in the third). The other is a priestess (flat arc) who is on a mission to take down the arch enemy the princess was once in thrall to. Princess previously committed grievous acts against the family of the priestess. Priestess has divine orders to not kill the princess (though she wants to).

    Conflict? Yeah, no problems there 🙂 I agree wholeheartedly with that diagnosis; lack of conflict has always been the heart of any instances where a scene or chapter feels “blah” to me.

    Trouble is, I’ve “varied” the conflict, it’s the “escalation” part I’ve been mulling over. But sometimes just putting fingers to the keyboard is sufficient to untangle a knotty problem, so I don’t recommend mulling too long (I intend to quit mulling as soon as I finish typing this. I promise).

    If any of you doubt that #4 is true — that your readers will feel what you feel about a scene — just get some beta readers. They will confirm the truth of #4. And I think getting that confidence in your gut instincts is half the battle right there. It can actually be triumphant to realize that you accurately pegged a scene as dull or exciting, because it means that you’ve become skilled enough to judge your work — no Dunning-Kruger for you! It pays to collect a few “victories” in that vein, so that you can remind yourself that “you’ve got this” when doubt creeps in.

  9. Jerry B. Jenkins says:

    That’s good thinking, Jamie. Now keep your promise. 🙂

  10. Jo NEYLAN says:

    I’m at the stalling halfway point right now and I needed to read this article, thanku.

  11. Mary George says:

    Mr. Jenkins ~

    Thank you for your wise words . . . what got me finishing my first novel was my own love of reading. I had a good opening scene – never knew where it would go, though – and because of all that reading * I knew my genre * . If there were ever a we-intended repeat it would be thus: Know Thy Genre. It helps tremendously when rolling the sleeves up to get down and dirty with all the revisions.

    And two: Go ahead. Let those wonderful sentences and good paragraphs boost your ego. Re-reading my material after weeks or months (Doesn’t Stephen King put his manuscripts away for a year?) I’ll stop and feel proud about a well-said introspection, an intense private conversation or the use of an imaginative, colorful simile. I’ll do it! I’ll pat myself on the back seeing what I’ve done – knowing the rest needs a serious, desperate makeover – but these bits of literary expression tell me I can do it. I’ve raised my own bar. Then I’ll sit my proverbial ass down with a slice of humble pie knowing – yup! – there’s a lot of work to do to get it where it needs to be.

    When can someone please write the book on Patience and Fortitude?

  12. I quit my novel once.
    Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I changed the genre and picked it up again XD

  13. Bettina Cohen says:

    I’m relating very much to this post and the comments that follow it. I have no intention of quitting my first novel, which I began writing 11 years ago. But I am taking a break to overcome a couple of setbacks.
    I began seriously revising my 256-page rough draft this past year. I seized the opportunity to join a newly forming writers’ group designed for people revising works in progress.
    My critique mates all seemed to agree I am not presenting my work in a way they can enjoy. That’s all well and good. Honest feedback is the reason some of us join critique groups. After several months of submitting 40-page segments of my revised work for critique to this writers’ group, and along with other distractions in life that make it challenging for me to focus on revising right now, I realized that I need to take time to digest what I’ve heard isn’t working with my manuscript, and to overcome a feeling of discouragement.
    I have withdrawn from the critique group, feeling that however useful their critiques have been, I need fresher eyes to read my next revision.
    Eventually, I will soldier on and return to my novel.

  14. Outstanding post. I got stuck for a bit on a section in my novel. I rewrote it, rewrote it, and re wrote it. And I was still stuck! Then I realized what the problem was. First, my central character was miles away from the main action. Him and a reaction team are waiting to go in if needed.

    I write first person in this series. So what I had to do was shift focus a little. Since he’s talking to the overwatch team via radio, I had to have them relay the action through their eyes. I got out a topographical relief map of the area (all my stuff happens in the real world), and I set some toy soldiers on it. Then I pretended to be the team leader of the overwatch team, and they’re relaying back what they see. Nothing too much, this is a combat situation and radio discipline must be watched. suddenly I had dialogue that could move things forward with Will’s imagination filling in the blanks.

    Hmmm, me thinks I should write up a blog on that.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Janice Hardy muses: what do you really know about your critique partners?, Reyna Marder Gentin has thoughts on learning when and how to take advice, and K.M. Weiland gives us 4 things you should know before you quit writing your novel. […]

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