Let’s Write A Novel #7 How To Deal With A Writing Setback

I’m writing a new novel and blogging through the process so that you can learn along with me.

For those who want to dive right in, if you’re on the email list, you can head over to the google folder and check out the latest updates to the draft.

If you missed the most recent blog post about dealing with unsupportive loved ones, you can check it out here.

 Earlier posts in the series are all gathered here.

There is no weekly update this week because I’ve started hitting a snag in the storyline, and I’m kind of bored with how it’s going. Even though I’m not posting these updates in chronological order, I do have a rough chronology in my head of how it plays out, and I feel like the characters are making emotional growth leaps without my input or without the input of the plot to help them along. That’s great for them, but it makes the story feel inauthentic to me, so I’ve taken a step back to figure out what they really need to learn and to do next.

While I’m doing that, I thought it would make a post about coping with setbacks, because I’m pretty much an expert on that subject.

When I first started writing about these characters, I was 16. I wrote a short story that I really loved, but it was the 90s, and the market was pretty different at the time. The story was too long to work as a magazine submission.

I edited it ruthlessly, but  the shorter versions were all rejected, and I felt that they lost the essence of what I was trying to write about. This was a common problem for me back in the day before e-book publishing.

So, I put the vampires aside for quite a while, until finally picking them up again in 2006. I had a new idea for a vampire story, and I wanted to use my old characters. This time, I was going to try a novel.

That one didn’t work out either.

It’s now eleven years later.  I’ve started, stopped, tried again, thrown out the plot, revamped it, and started over more times than I can count.

In the meanwhile, I’ve written the Foxes of Synn, a bunch of short stories, and a novella. You would think that I’d either get the vampire story right by now or I would give up.

I won’t because these characters have stayed with me for so long that they’ve become part of my soul. Their stories are in my bones, and if I didn’t keep trying, it would be an abandonment of everything I believe about writing.

So I’ve kept going.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about how to deal with setbacks in writing a novel or any kind of creative pursuit.

  1. Realize that setbacks are normal. We all have them. How-to books and writing courses tend to present themselves as “the magic solution,” and we all read them because it’s part of our due diligence in improving our craft. We can end up internalizing the idea that writing should always be a linear process. We feel like, if we were “doing it right,” everything would go smoothly and all the pieces would fall into place. The truth is that writing a book is messy. Drafting doesn’t always happen in a linear fashion, and for a lot of writers, the stories change as we go from concept to planning to actual writing and then rewriting.
  1. It’s okay to give yourself space and time. Some stories come quickly and easily. Others don’t. Your creative process can change from one project to another. If you are writing under contract, you may have a time limit in which to produce something usable, but even within that constraint, it’s okay if your story doesn’t all come together at once.
  1. Circumstances can change. Maybe you started your novel at a point in your life when things were relatively stable. Then you had an unexpected family crisis or you moved to a new city or you got a new job or even a new puppy. Those things can affect your ability to write, the time you have to write in, and the quality of the writing you can manage.
  1. Don’t panic if you make a mistake. I made a major mistake while plotting one of the previous versions of my vampire series. I realized my mistake after only a few months, and it would’ve been pretty simple for me to just put some notes in the draft document about what I had done to correct the problem and then continue the story from there, completely undoing the problem plot element. Instead, I freaked out and beat myself up because I had done “months of work that I now had to throw out.” That wasn’t even true, but I lacked the experience to realize that I could just put a metaphorical patch over the problem for the moment and continue my story. Sure, I would have to do some more time intensive work during revisions, but that’s what revisions are for. Everyone goes through this type of thing with a story. Some of the things you thought would work out will end up not making sense or not working as well as you thought. More often than not, you’ll be able to veer around the error and keep going through the rough draft.
  1. Don’t interpret your mistakes as evidence that you should give up. This goes along with #4. Mistakes are normal a part of the writing process, but I see many writers who get discouraged and think that they should give up when they realize their draft has a significant error or plot hole. You can make things like that mean whatever you want them to mean about your skill level or whether you “should” be writing a novel.For example, when I recognized the big mistake that I made in my earlier attempt at my vampire series, I could have congratulated myself for noticing it and figuring out what to do to fix it. Instead, I allowed it to become a commentary on my skills and judgment as a writer. For a long time after that, I had no confidence in my ability to plot a story. Every time I had an idea, I had to find a friend who was willing to talk through the whole thing with me and make sure that there were no major problems or holes. There were rarely any big red flags. I’m pretty good at plotting a story, even though I’m not the strictest plotter out there. But because I allowed that one mistake to mean so much about myself and my abilities as a writer, I suffered for years unable to trust myself to write a good story. You don’t have to do that. Even if you do make a big mistake, you found the mistake, and you can figure out how to fix it.

If you found this post helpful, drop a buck or two in my tip jar. It helps a lot with my website related expenses and makes it possible for me to continue bringing you Let’s Write a Novel and other writing related features. https://www.paypal.me/rosebfischer

Don’t forget to come back in two weeks for the next installment of Let’s Write a Novel.

10 thoughts on “Let’s Write A Novel #7 How To Deal With A Writing Setback

  1. Thank you for sharing 🙂 The process in need seems to be a bit of the mess. But that’s the beauty of it, right? Living in the society that’s rooting for perfection, what a relief it is to know that how perfect are our imperfections! Good luck with all the future writing 🙂


  2. Thanks for sharing, I need to bookmark this for when I start to panic. The novel idea I have now started off as a vampire novel idea back in my teens, not sure exactly when but I’m 29 now. I never finished it but the idea and the inspiration stayed with me and after various tries over the years (and losing my original story, maybe i binned it!!) I am now making some sort of progress. The idea has completely changed, it’s a new novel. In fact if everything happens for a reason the ideas I have now would not have been possible if it wasn’t for my interests in my teens and life decisions when I left school. So maybe it’s a good thing that I never finished it as that old idea can’t really get in the way of the new. I think only one character is the same and what happens and the location is similar. I am going to finish it this time!


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