Getting A Failed Novel Back On Track

I have an entire folder full of word files labeled Project 2/24, Write This later, New Novel, Project XYZ, and Untitled. These are my one-off projects, aptly named because I felt inspired and dedicated a single session writing them. I imagine every serious writer has similar inspirational ammo ready to go when they’re bored or ready for a new project.

But now, as I come to start testing the waters with new book ideas, I find that all creative motivation behind my “on-hold” folder is sapped. What was I thinking? I’d think upon reading over a few pages I wrote for Novel XYZ. Did this idea have potential in reality or only in my imagination?

I don’t want to label anyone’s shelved ideas as “failed.” Most of them are just waiting for a writer to court them into submission, to take hold of their potential and turn them into an ongoing project. It’s that time gap I worry myself about, whether it’s been months since I typed out a thousand words for Project Z or I went through two full reconstructions of a current project.

While doing what I’m doing, I’ve come up with a few strategies for realigning motivation with potential ideas, whether they’re 10,000 words short of being done or a few notes on a napkin.


Re-reading what you’ve written is the best way to get back into that necessary voice and mindset it takes to move forward. I catch myself doing this when I’m stuck or realize I’m using mismatched tone and diction.

While re-reading, of course, you have a chance to edit. Making sizable edits is a good way to reaffirm your status as an idea’s maker, god, or host. Improving upon an idea makes it your bitch again, so to say, and boosts authorial confidence in what’s already written.


Planning, charting, brainstorming, outlining — whatever you want to call it, it’s all the same. The aforementioned projects I orphaned weren’t out to pasture, merely waiting for some nourishment. Most of these projects were sporadic and unplanned, but an outline can set them up for future creation.


This is how every indie author plans books.

I’ve always heard authors talk about having an idea and tabling it for a few months. This works when it comes to editing and, at least from what I’ve seen, doesn’t work for writing. If you have an idea you need to write it out of your system (take notes, jot down descriptions, outline, etc.) or it’ll be gone and forgotten.

With this in mind and when ready to move ahead with a backburner project, I’d suggest reworking the outline/plan to give you direction. Unsatisfied with the climax? Forget it. Write until you get there and then figure it out. The planning process simply puts you back into the creator’s shoes.


An internal pep-talk never hurts. Take some time away from the keyboard, typewriter, or pen(cil) and just mull it over. But don’t think specifics. Specifics are for writing and editing, not creating worlds and getting yourself ready to work.

Imagine where your novel can go, the millions of people who will read it, and how great it would look in a box set with its sequel. No one judges quiet optimists. Are you giving an international lecture on the concept/theme of your novel? Great. Let your mind run with it and, if you’re lucky, you’ll figure out a few things before you start writing. (Also, everyone in your head is super nice and enthusiastic about what you’re doing.)


Depending on your project, you might have to run down to your local library (hah) and scour tomes on ancient cultivation practices or whatever it is you’re writing on. Research is refreshing, especially when you have an inkling of an idea loaded into the chamber.

Research also includes reading books in a similar genre. Or hell, just re-read one of your favorite books to get into the right mood. Research

I have yet to do a novel that hinges on research. Fiction just happens to be that way. Take note, closet writers: Some of the best research you do will be out in the real world, where people talk and make mistakes, judge one another, and give you free dialogue. Use it.


Maybe not a “resurrecting a dead project” tip, but one I deploy just as often. I’m constantly accosted by new ideas, stressors on my brain that want to be written and distract. I’ve had ideas on hold for years now, ones I know are beyond me, currently unmarketable, or plain terrible.

Juggling BooksI recently split my current project into two books. On the side, I’m working on a shorter piece (rural fiction, I guess?). The side project keeps me going when I’m tired of editing and hating myself for ever starting on the big project. Regardless, I always try to move a project forward in some capacity every day. Editing a few chapters, writing a page, or even reorganizing notes is progress.

Still, there comes a time when you have to get something finished and published. That should be your main focus, not growing a dozen novellas at the same time (it’s super confusing to do, especially when you’re intermixing character names in different book worlds).

A serious writer never stops working. Set a goal, stick to it. One word in front of the other.

About Brennan Reid (100 Articles)
I'm Illinois born, Indiana educated, and writing for a living in Missouri.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Unsticking A Stuck Novel | Brennan Reid
  2. 7 ways to overcome writer’s block | The Importance of Being Edited

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