The older I get, the easier I find it to discard of…well, anything that no longer pleases me. For example, I’ve learned that life is too short to force myself to finish reading a book I’m not really enjoying (why on Jupiter would anyone do that anyway – in case the Book God in the sky punishes you?). I’ve realised that sticking things out for the stake of sticking things out is a little crazy. Relationship sucks? Move on. Job sucks? Leave. Whenever I’ve made the bold decision to ditch anything because it’s not working, my move has paid off. Leaving rubbish jobs has always allowed for better jobs to come along. Recognising that a broken relationship is beyond repair has always allowed for a healthier relationship to begin. Lugging bags of old clothes to the charity shop has always left me feeling lighter; I’ve never regretted ditching anything.
However, I do believe that ditching can only be positive if it’s done out of love, and not fear. Walking out of a failing relationship because you’re too afraid to get to the root of your problems will most likely mean you end up exactly where you were again and again, regardless of who you’re in a relationship with. Leaving a job because you know it’s not where your talents lie only to start a new position before you’ve given yourself the chance (the love!) to discover where your talents do lie is unlikely to see a positive return. Donating all your clothes to Oxfam because they make you feel frumpy before you’ve bought replacements that make you feel fancy will render you one naked-yet-admirably-altruistic puppy.
Soooooo, what’s all this got to do with writing? Well, like many writers, I start writing a lot of things and then end up finishing only about 0.5% of any of them (unless I’m writing for my clients of course ). I know this is completely normal, and all part of the creative process, but I think it’s time I started to do this more out of love, than fear. My most recent ditching came at the end of last summer when at 13,000 into a light-hearted yet intelligent (ahem) comedy that I was finding really easy to write, I suddenly realised that I wanted to ‘do more’ than make people giggle a bit. So, I just stopped.
The problem with this, however, is that I ditched a work in progress because I had identified what I did not want to write. I had not, in contrast, identified what I did want to write. My motivation for stopping had come from a place of fear (of being superficial), and not love.
I now realise that I very rarely ask myself perhaps the most important question that all writers should ask themselves:
What do I want to write?
On an even grander scale, how often do any of us honestly ask ourselves:
What will make me happy?
Really, I think I need to put the two together and ask:
What could I write that will make me happy?
Hmmmmm. BIG QUESTION. I’m embarrassed that I haven’t really taken the time to think that one through honestly and thoroughly. I’m even more embarrassed to admit that for my entire writing life I have been behaving as if the answer to that question will come to me after I’ve finished writing the thing that will make me happy. It seems obviously illogical now.
Soooo, the title of this post was ‘When do you know it’s time to ditch your novel?’; the answer, therefore, I suppose is ‘When you’re ready to start the novel you do want to write.’