Writing a novel is like knitting.

When I started Girls on Fire six years ago, I thought I could whip it out in a month. NANOWRIMO. You’ve probably done one of those yourself. It was a romance – easy peasy, right? I’d read a million of them. My mother collected them. I was an expert writer. I blogged. I could do this. Chug, chug, chug.

Turned out that I could. I churned out fifty-thousand words in a month and started having friends read it, sent it to an editor, and voila Girls on Fire was born. The first inkling that I had a problem was when a friend of mine beta read the book and hated the primary character. I identified with the main character. I poured my own personality into her, made her prettier, nicer, more wonderful than I was. And yet she was “out there – way out there.”

My editor started a line by line edit. I learned that in the new century sentences were separated by one space instead of two, and I made a lot of silly mistakes – I knew better and just didn’t catch them. I also learned that names changed midstory, facts didn’t match, and she asked questions that I hadn’t thought through that would change the network of invisible threads that tied the story together. So I put Girls on Fire on hold for five years.

When I returned with great enthusiasm, it changed completely. I had read tons of books on how to write fiction, dialogue, plots, character development, you name it, and had rewritten it from beginning to end. It had more substance. I listened to it and made changes. Then I hired a developmental editor, who suggested even more changes. I redid it two and a half more times. Several friends read the very first part and made some great suggestions and asked questions. It felt good.

I added balance to the three girl’s stories and twenty-thousand more words. Now it is up to over one-hundred-thousand words. Another friend begged me to let her read it. I emailed her the first quarter of it. She brought it back the next week after reading ten pages. “I can’t read this.”

I thought I could handle that kind of feedback. After mulling it over for days, I asked my editor if I should continue. The editor encouraged me. My friend kept asking me about it. “What did the editor say? Any news from the editor? Does she think it is worth continuing?”

 Another friend read the first few chapters without any response, and another, both professional writers or editors. “Do you really want me to do this?” one asked me before she took it.  It was only the prologue. I ignored the warning and never asked for her comments. Another friend gave me line by line encouraging comments and feedback. It kept me going. So I kept plowing through it – another five months total between official edits.

Last week I talked to the editor again who was ready to do the line edit, only the manuscript was not up to par. “The purpose of the first half is still unclear,” she said. “Lose the prologue and most of the first chapter.”

Those were the two items that had cost me the most time and thought. My brain muddled. It was easy to cut out words. Snip, snip and they were gone, saved in a revision if I wanted to revise them. But revisions littered my computer, and I could hardly remember what revision had what facts. My brain hurt. My heart hurt, and the girls fire burned out. 

I emailed the editor yesterday. It was time to pay her another $800 for the line by line edit which wasn’t even close to ready. So I gave myself a present for Christmas – permission to quit. The editor was kind as always. 

“I’m sorry to hear this, but I am also a big believer in not pushing yourself to do something if the spark is no longer there, so I, of course, respect your decision. 

As I didn’t end up doing the line edit for you, I would actually like to refund a portion of this last payment. I did, of course, spend time reading this new draft and on our phone call, but not an amount of time that was equal to the $800. What I am thinking is I will charge you my hourly consulting fee ($75/hour) for five hours + the commission I’ve sent to the editing network (which I can’t regain, unfortunately) but then send the remainder back your way. 

This would mean I owe you a $300 refund. Is there a way you would prefer this sent to you? 

What I do hope is that this decision doesn’t bar you from continuing to write and work on a new project. You are a good writer, and I’d hate for this experience to have you turn away from that. There’s many an author who has pressed pause on a project but found a lot of good came from putting their energies into a fresh blank page. 

The hardest part of quitting is accepting defeat in front of the writing world. I honestly thought when I started that I could do this if I worked hard enough and long enough. I no longer think that. I think the cords of plot have wound themselves into a tangle, and I can’t unwind them and start again.

It’s like knitting with a tangle of yarn instead of a ball, and you get partly done, the yard knots up, you unknot it, untangle it, roll it into a ball and discover breaks. You go on. You weave in the yarn. You get almost finished with the hat and discover that it’s twisted because you did something wrong with the new needles.

What do you do?

Or it’s a complicated Irish knit sweater and halfway through the last piece of the project, you run out of yarn, and it is a single color dye lot AND you put the button holes on the wrong side.  


What do you do?

I want to thank my husband who stuck with me for the entire six years of the project and counted on it being a big hit and making tons of money. He read and made comments to the temporary detriment of our relationship. He ignored my lack of housekeeping, cooking, and conversation for an intense focus on the computer screen. Yesterday, he welcomed me back to the world of the living. We went out for hot dogs and ice cream. And here I am in the middle of the night – typing like a crazy woman.  He’s asleep. He doesn’t know.  I’ll press publish.

What would you do?