Breaking Up With Your Book



“It just wasn’t working out.”

I’m sure most everyone can relate to this popular phrase.  There could even be someone reading this who is experiencing it right now.  But if you can’t relate, then consider yourself lucky to be one of the very few (see below) who’ve managed to avoid the ending of a relationship.

For those of us who have been there, remember the forensic microscope we put ourselves under in an attempt to figure out just what went wrong? Sometimes it’s pretty easy (“sleeping with my best friend was kind of a deal breaker”), but other times one of the two (sometimes both) parties involved are left scratching their head. Relationships are a complex business, governed by volatile emotions, which commonly elude predictability, so it should be no surprise that failure is more than probable…but often-times expected.  In fact a recent poll of married people reported that the average number of individuals they dated before eventually tying the knot was 24. Another way to look at it is 24 failed relationships before claiming success. Then factor in this statistic…50% of marriages end in divorce. It all paints a rather dismal picture, doesn’t it?

That’s all very fascinating…and a little depressing…but what does any of it have to do with writing?

How many books have you started working on that ended up being abandoned – for whatever reason -- before they were finished? One? Two? Twenty-four? You could make the argument that writing a book is very similar to a romantic relationship. For example, an idea pops into your head…not unlike like eyes meeting across a crowded room, quickly followed by a knowing smile…and soon it’s followed by a rush of excitement. As you explore the possibilities it becomes all you can think about. The link between the two of you is passionate, electric, and intoxicating. You welcome each new day because it offers undiscovered ways to deepen your bond. 

Then things change. It could happen right away, or slowly over a longer stretch of time, but little by little the romance begins to fade. At first you wonder if the lull is only a phase (it’s not like us writers experience that at all) or is the connection slipping away entirely. There comes a point where the relationship feels more like work than anything else and the amount of enjoyment you derive from it is disproportionate to the effort required to sustain it.

That’s when something else catches your eye. Another story idea…and this one is REALLY exciting. It’s not long before this new idea is all you can think about and the current story languishes on your hard drive. This internal tug-of-war festers inside of you until one day you wake up and make a hard decision…one that’s best for everybody…it’s time to break up with your book.

But what went wrong with that first book? All the signs were there at the beginning pointing towards a long and fruitful relationship…just as it is now with this new idea…so what’s different this time around? What makes this new idea “THE ONE”…when the previous idea felt the same way at first?

I’ve already mentioned how relationships are unpredictable, so the person who figures out how to foretell whether or not a coupling will endure the test of time will become a Gazillionaire…or a reality TV star…or both. Writing a book is no different. Just because you fall in love with an idea today doesn’t mean it’s destined for the NY Times Bestseller list…or publication…or even completion. Some of us writers “date” a lot, constantly bogged down with false starts and premises that don’t pan out.  Others, like myself, go to the other extreme and are more cautious, spending a lot of time researching before committing to a concept.   

In the end, all we can do is keep going on book dates and hoping for the best. Because if you place your bet on a single idea/book…the odds are against you.

11 comments

  1. I have a ton of unfinished manuscripts and I feel bad about almost all of them. I may go back and finish a few, if I ever have time and if they ever fit in the production schedule.

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  2. Hi DL - yup - I get part through posts .. and then move on - now must go back and tidy them up and start blogging again. I guess it's the same as books - we need time out occasionally .. but I'd dearly like to take more risks and finish things off - good luck with the new book, stories etc ... cheers Hilary

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  3. I have short stories that went nowhere. And a couple book ideas that were abandoned or forgotten. But sometimes, it helps to come back to those older stories and try again.

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  4. I went through a long spell of starting something and then abandoning it for the prettier eyes across the room. ;)

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  5. Hmmm... I dated 3 people before I met my future husband (we've been married almost 36 years!) and I've finished every novel I've started. Does that make me weird? Short stories are another matter. I've started several (some for Write Club!) that I never finished.

    Yet.

    Who knows, they may end up being the beginning of another novel. :)

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  6. My first book and it was a very hard break up. I mean I was one of those clingy girlfriends who just would not let go and would not move on. It was my baby. I refused to listen to common sense or reason. Looking back now, I am rather ashamed that I fought so long for that one sided relationship. Even my book was begging me to let go. Loved this post.

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  7. Gah! I was just thinking about this the other day when I stumbled across a barely remembered half-finished MS on my hard-drive. I think I have at least 3 of those unfinished little babies hanging around in there. A couple of them are even technically done, but I never revised them. Maybe one day they will regain their luster and I will return to them. But probably not...

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  8. Romance and sticking it out with a WIP, what an analogy! I fell out of love with my first novel after working on it for a number of years. What made me decide to cut it off was just me realizing that I wasn't the same person I was when I first began writing it, that I have changed, and therefore, my motivation for getting a story like this out had also changed. I just didn't care about the story anymore. It was a good thing, in a way. Because by letting go of this story, I was also letting go of something else that had once consumed me.

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  9. It's weird... I have tons of unfinished MS, but I never feel like I broke up with them, more that it wasn't the right time. I love all of the ideas and concepts behind them, and I just keep them for a later date. Who knows, maybe I'll never come back to them. But I usually know why I stopped writing each one, and what I need to focus on when I jump back in. Time will tell I suppose :)

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  10. As a romance novelist, I have to figure out the reason I'm writing the book in the first place.
    To continue a series
    To start a series
    To make a statement
    To fall in love again

    I've always been a firm believer in love at first sight. As we're all made of chemical compounds, in every scientific experiment ever performed, compounds combust at certain points creating a different molecular structure. Same with love, be it with books or people.

    Sure, I love my idea at the beginning, but as the word count grows, sometimes it's harder to keep that "Oh, my God, I'll die without you in my life." Other times, the infatuation grows into a comfortable "Hey, this is a pretty good relationship. I think I'll stick with it."

    And then at other times I have to abandon said relationship (book) because, hey, crap happens in real life and I just can't deal. That's when I generally blow something up.

    In all my books, when I get stuck (or life happens, whichever comes first) if I'm still in love with it, I literally blow something up, start a fire, make the characters dive into some unexpected mess that they have to get out of. Why? Because characters are real people (if you write the right way) and you want your readers to see THEIR lives in the characters.

    Falling in love with a story isn't hard. It's working on the relationship to make it viable is the hard part. Abandoning a story is easy. Just like with love. I have several stories in my hard drive at various stopping points. Have I abandoned them -- yes, but I know I'll finish them because I have to. Just because I haven't seen my friend for six months because I've been incredibly busy doesn't mean I won't call her for coffee next week.

    Of course, being a romance novelist, everything has to have a Happily Ever After. I can't just leave Katie and Dan stuck on page 124 forever. Some day they will get their fairy tale ending.

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