I once again started wondering what might be the problem that keeps me from finishing most of my novels. To compare, there are two novels about 400 pages; one of these was really liked by its (single) reader while I thought it was a huge mess (looks like there is serious character development happening I didn't even notice), while the other one confused the living daylight out of the other (single) reader (while I hoped it was way more... tidy in terms of structure).

Beside this, there must be about 20 or more drafts which barely made it past 50 pages (usually it stops at 20 pages), which may be better or worse than the "finished" ones. I often ponder about why I never did end them, and usually its the same conclusion: It feels stupid.

Its not like the finished ones are more "sane" in any case; we are talking about sci-fi and fantasy with some espionage elements or steam-punky worlds, cruel architecture and some references to favorite media art. To be honest, both stories are kind of insane when thinking about it, but for some reason they came to an end.

Now whats wrong with all these other stories? I know it will be hard to find out if you didn't read them, but usually they are more or less as "insane" as the other ones...

but why does one keep ending up with the impression that what has been typed to virtual paper is crazy batsh!t and not worth a continue?

When carving out this cry for help I stumbled upon this writers question which touched a topic kind of close to mine, but it didn't came up with an answer for me (while still offering some insight).

To push this further... this is highly sujective perception, but sometimes when wandering through bookstores and looking upon new books I start wondering "This has been printed? Seriously?", and wonder why they managed to pull this through while I (not even aiming to publish this) end up thinking bad about what I made up so far.

Thinking more about it usually leads to the idea that I simply failed or will fail to keep up the suspension of disbelieve... but at the other hand there are stories out there which are about zombies/apes/aliens/insert-favorite-menace-here taking over the world or being beaten by some pretty unlikely heroes.

Why this feels more sane than... hm...

  • I once let my characters lay waste to the grand exhibition (the first world exhibition in London) using a experimental blimp which ended up in... uhm... lets say there are mummies, airships, vampires, conspiracies and romances happening.

  • Other example includes some lab assistant who teleports not from A to B, but back into time, and whats happening after this are... it messes up the timescale we know and produce an infamous art thief usually known for other reasons.

  • Some older stuff includes (sci-fi this time) a missing battleship, a near-collision, huge empty areas, invisible stalkers, ninja-assassin-kitten and pretty scared (not scary) mutants.

  • Last example includes a classic fantasy-world, a pyramid, some guys which failed to summon a demon and a magical gate which leads right next to the comic con. Oh, and Bob of course, which is... a janitor.

So why did one (I in that case) came to a complete halt at a point early in the story and keep on thinking "that's just plain stupid, do not waste your time!", while out there authors are busy writing stuff like this and even earning enough money for a living. I do not think there is a "secret" they have, but... what is missing at my side?

I feel motivation building up to create a new story (as discovery-writer I cannot tell what will happen at this point of time). And this time I hope I can end it at least. Wonder who will be the single reader this time.

Anyway, If you can point me in a good direction I would be most grateful. Before formulating any responses about books to read please consider that English isn't my first language and less common books in English sometimes are hard to get here.

Greetings, ConfusedMerlin

EDiT: From one answer I will pick up something to read which I stumbled upon some time ago but didn't remember exactly what is was about: The Gap You'll find a youtube link in the answer of... Ken Mohnkern, but for all who can't/won't watch a video, this link of mine will offer a silent reading of what this is about (and that video too).

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    "I couldn’t see wasting two weeks, maybe even a month, creating a novella I didn’t like and wouldn’t be able to sell. So I threw it away … After all, who wanted to read a book about a poor girl with menstrual problems?" - Stephen King about his first published novel Carrie.
    – Philipp
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:48

5 Answers 5


I think you are trying to do too much in each step of the writing.

Writing (or any art) in not a single process, it takes different skills to produce a work.

I see that you are trying to produce something "good". But you can't create something "good" while you are judging it in order to "improve" it. Something that can be "improved" is by definition not yet "good".

Okay let me get rid of these semantics. Here is my process.

The First Draft

featuring "The Author"

When I write a First Draft I try to get the words and ideas out as fast as possible. I even try to leave the spelling errors, as long I as understand the word. I normally fail and [backspace][backspace] retype. Some writers do this first draft in long-hand with pen and paper.

The First Draft is holy. It is an infant. It will have problems. I don't care what those problems are until the first draft is complete. My creative self is in charge, I call him The Author. I write things like {{does a spectacular gymnastic move to disarm the ninja}} when I find myself getting bogged down in the action. I've put {{this seems totally against her character!}} and moved on. Notes to myself are always enclosed in {{}}.

I don't judge the quality of the writing. If I find myself judging, I gently remind myself "not yet, that is the next step."

Nothing gets in the way of producing that day's word count.

800 words per day.

I stop when I've written at least that many words.

I don't go to sleep unless I've written at least that many words (on a writing day).

The Polish

featuring "The Judge"

I print out my manuscript double spaced, one side per page, 2.54cm margins. Occasionally I will polish on screen. Rarely because it is very bad for the step after this.

I go through the manuscript judging it. My internal self is called The Judge who is a fussy editor. But he is a consistent and structured editor. He asks questions like:

  • does each character have their own voice?
  • does each character stay in character?
  • does this match my hero's journey?
  • how should this fight scene play out?
  • is this a plot hole?
  • is this character really needed or should the role be filled by someone else?
  • who's story is this?
  • If our hero is the girl, why is her brother doing all the fighting?

This process gives my inner Judge freedom to complain and rant. It means he knows he will get his chance after the writing.

I hand-write any answers and all these questions on the manuscript. I also flag typos and grammatical kludges.

Second Draft

featuring "the Author"

I take my marked up manuscript and start retyping from scratch with the Author in charge. Note, I do not copy and paste from the original file.

This is important to separate the Judge from the Author. The Judge cannot create, he can only improve. The Author cannot improve he just creates.

I type again. If there are pages and pages without change that means the Author created and the Judge approved. If every page has changes, that's okay too. The Author loves creating fixes to problems.

If the Judge shows up while I'm typing I politely tell him that it's not his turn yet and then I remind the Author to keep going.

The Author completes the second draft.

Second Polish/Copy edit

featuring "The Judge"

The Judge now gets a chance to edit the manuscript. If it's close to complete, this may just be a copy edit for spelling and grammar. Again I print it out with space for notes.

I normally allow at least 3 drafts and 3 polishes.

The final step is always a copy edit, spell check, grammar check, typo (your/you're) check.

Try separating writing from editing and see how that feels.

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    Gave a +1, because I think this might be close to answering the question "why do some of my novels stop." It varies by person whether they can edit while writing, some people produce publishable text on first try, but at least for me, if I actually stop writing and go to analytical mode where I look and think about what I was writing, it is game over. Editing sentences and even rewriting paragraphs is okay though. YMMV. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 9:03
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    Thanks for your elaborate answer. Sadly I do have a hard time separating these... entities of my creative self from each other. In fact, I always reread what I did write down during the last session and immediately start editing and fixing typos. I need this to get back into the mood and (sometimes) action which are about to resolve or unfold (or just being processed right at moment). So I'm not sure if (or how) I can implement your suggestion for myself. *thinking* Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 6:07
  • Nothing wrong with reread the previous day's work. But if you don't write new words you're doing too much revising. Also if you are judging your work as stupid at this stage how does it motivate you to continue?
    – paulzag
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 4:42

Wise words from some very smart people might help:

  1. Anne Lamott wrote in Bird by Bird that you should feel free to write shitty first drafts. Make sense of what you've written in later revisions and rewrites.

  2. Ira Glass, of "This American Life," talked once about the gap between your good taste and your skills as a writer.

  • Thanks for your answer; now I know again where I did hear this stuff about the difference between your writing skill and your standard of text quality. But my mind doesn't mind knowing this, it still keeps thinking that stuff is dumb. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 6:16

It's good that you feel motivated to write again, despite the fates of your other stories, however, if you do start a new story, please give it a chance. All of your previous stories seem to be over-the-top absurd. There's an audience for that- as you see in bookstores- but I think I see what you may have failed to understand, depending on your answer to this: Are your stories, the unfinished ones, are they intended to be- to some extent- comical? The only way absurdity can hold its own is by being intentionally humorous, or no one will "get" it: a book involving a ninja-assassin-kitten shouldn't be expected to be read with a straight face (I don't think), so if such a story was intended by the author to be a serious-toned, sci-fi thriller but is getting laughed at instead would be very bad. My best advice to you is to make sure you look at whatever fantastically absurd tales your imagination concocts through a comedic lens. Anyone that may read your story will enjoy it more thoroughly if they understand that the author intends the story to be, to some extent, an absolutely silly, but thrilling adventure. It might even change the way you view your old unfinished works. Very best wishes to you!

  • Thanks for your encouraging words @Numi. That tackles something I didn't even mention in my question: Most times I'm going for a story that is supposed to entertain these who might read it in a humorous way, but often I fall back to less straight comical plots after some time went by instory. I wonder if this can cause the perception that the whole scenario is crazy batsh!t.... Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 5:08
  • You're welcome! Remember: there's nothing wrong with a story being crazy! I hope you get writing again really soon!
    – Numi
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 10:54

I struggle with being very critical of my own work. I think that's a universal struggle for all writers.

I think an important question to ask is: why am I being so critical of this? Okay, I say the reason is that it feels too absurd, too batshit crazy. Okay, that's a perception thing, totally subjective. There's nothing objectively wrong with any of these things, but I've chosen words that have a negative connotation. Why?

For me the answers usually land in one of two general camps

Camp 1

It reveals that I really am not writing what I want to write. My goals aren't being reached. I clarify what my goals are, exactly, and this helps me write a better second draft, or throw away the story altogether.

Camp 2

It reveals that I have some feelings that are related to fear and insecurity...it's that I'm worried about what other people will think of me writing this kind of thing. In that case, it's not a writing problem, it's an emotional problem to be worked out; my opinion is that I want to get rid of all that kind of motivation as much as possible because in the end writing for others is toxic. So in this camp, the work I do is internal work, to get myself to a place where I'm accepting what I want to do instead of judging it from other people's perspectives; the judgment isn't mine; it's theirs and I've internalized it.

No matter which camp it landed in, either way, I've made progress in a big, important way by doing this. And that's how I focus myself, motivation-wise: I focus on the fact that I'm getting closer to writing the story I really want to. I just recognize that this soul-searching stuff is actually a really important aspect of getting there.

Because without the soul-searching I'm rudderless; I have no idea what I need to do, which direction to go in.

It's important that I'm writing to please one person--not thinking about pleasing others, especially in the first draft. After that, if I want to think about how to make it a little more accessible/palatable for others that's great, but you want the core of it to be the story that you want to tell, because that will be what makes the process deeply satisfying and then leads to you being motivated to keep writing.

Writing novels is a marathon, not a sprint, so long-term motivation is the key constraint.


Sometimes work that is hugely flawed in one respect can have some other aspect strong enough to make up the difference. Conversely, a work that seemingly makes all the right choices can still fail to be worth the reader's time. And, of course, readers vary greatly in tastes and tolerances.

An artist is often not the best judge of his or her own work. The fact that even one person made it all the way through your first book and loved it speaks well for it --400 pages is a serious commitment of time and attention. If the work is complete, you might as well go ahead and try to sell it. If it sells, then you know it was "good enough" to get published. If not, you're no worse off than you are now, and you might possibly get some good feedback along the way.

Although many talented authors with brilliant books never get them published, there are --as you have discovered --any number of books that are "huge messes" that make it into print. Some even find a devoted audience. At this point, the one confirmed difference between the authors of those books and you is that they didn't let doubts about the quality of their work stop them from pushing forward. To quote Robert Heinlein's famous 5 Rules For Writing:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
  • Thanks for your words @Chris Suami. That reminds me of something I think I've red here somewhere: After reading way to much literature the own perception of quality writing is way more advanced than the own abilities to create such writing. Means, the more you read, the more you expect from what you produce yourself, or am I getting this wrong? Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 5:15
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    @ConfusedMerlin - You might be talking about Ira Glass' concept of "the gap" --Ken Mohnkern cites it in his answer to this post. Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:54

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