Often, I imagine, it would be one that came to a halt because of external circumstances. The day job gets frantic for three months and when you go back to the book you read the first chapter and think: who are these people? Yes, that happened to me.
Or you get ill. Or there is a sudden family crisis.
Sometimes it is to do with the book itself — a publisher changes their mind, for instance. And yes, I have one or two of those. (One I was very glad to stop, to be honest. I’d really gone off the hero.)
I still have a 40K word file of a book I really liked. It was a sequel that the publisher decided, mid-creation, they didn’t want after all. Please could they have a romance based on a (then) popular reality television show instead?
My reply was 1) ouch and 2) no.
Just Came to a Stop…
Sadly, I have a whole cellar full of those.
Some were misconceived from the start. Mostly these are books I was trying to write to please an editor.
Nobody’s fault. In people-pleasing mode I would think, oh yes, that sounds fun. Then, when it was just me, the characters and the laptop, I couldn’t do it. The life had been breathed into them by the editor alone.
I’m really glad to leave those in the vault.
…but It Won’t Leave Me Alone
And then there is that unfinished book that just won’t let go.
You can ignore its multiple files on your computer. You can bury the dog-eared, well-thumbed notebooks. and the box files of research. All that will do is increase the pressure on you to get it out and look at it again.
As many of my friends know, I’m editing one of those at the moment. I’m really glad to be doing it. Every treasured but unnecessary scene that I send to the cutting room floor, I cheer. I SO want the book off my desk and onto somebody else’s.
But even so, my constant companion the evil Perfection Prefect keeps pulling me back. The closer I get to the end, the more I a) slow down and b) panic.
Fortunately I have friends urging me on. Constantly. Some of them have even threatened reprisals if I don’t damn well get it done this time. Bless their pointed little heads. I really believe they’re going to get me through it, this time
Is it Just Me?
I’ve beaten myself up about this a lot. Even though I knew I wasn’t alone. Jane Austen had at least two books waiting to be finished when she died. But I did think my failure to finish set me pretty much out on my own.
Only then I read this piece by Jennifer Crusie, one of my all time favourite writers. She’s sharp, thoughtful, funny and warm – and she writes like a dream. Her Welcome To Temptation has stayed in my top 5 ever since I first read it, umpty-um years ago.
And yet here was Jenny Crusie owning up to exactly the same thing. And she has a brilliant solution. She’s co-written novels with Bob Mayer in the past. They do His and Hers chapters, turn and turnabout, and it works like a dream. So ‘in 2022 she turned to Bob Mayer and said, “For the love of God, get me to the end of a book.”’
The first book of that life-saving collaboration is Lavender’s Blue. It’s out now and on my Kindle.
At three chapters in, it’s a cracker.
And there are at least two more to come.
And my optimism about my own possible recovery has just doubled in strength. If you’ve ever suffered from the same thing, here’s hoping it does the same for you!