SPEAKING OF abortive novels, how many do you have jamming up your notebooks and/or hard drives, and at what point do you decide, "No, this isn't happening?" How do you know? And how do you know whether it's not the right time to write it, or whether it's just plain no good?I think every writer's answer would be different, but for me it comes down to excitement, for lack of a better word. That is, I know that a book is ready to be written when I really, really want to write it. When I'm actually excited about the prospect of tackling it. Because even writing as relatively fast as I do, any book-length project is going to be an investment of months, and who wants to get bogged down in a months'-long project that isn't any fun?
I find my own emotional reaction to a project--my level of excitement, I suppose you could say--has come to serve as a pretty effective barometer for the readiness of an idea. If I'm not excited about doing a book, it's probably because it isn't quite there yet. It may simply be a collection of different characters and ideas at this stage, that haven't yet coalesced into one novel.
Often times, what it takes is the introduction of just one more idea or character, a catalyst that makes the other disparate elements suddenly cohere and become a workable whole. But that's a whole other discussion.
If I'm not feeling it, though, the book isn't happening yet. I sock it away with all my notes, fragmentary story bits, and such like, against the day that I find that missing component, or figure out the proper combination of partial-ideas needed to make a complete story. And brother, I've got dozens of "collections of different characters and ideas" in my notebooks and on my harddrives, waiting to find that magical catalyst.
But I've yet to give up on any of them. They're all good ideas whose time just hasn't come yet. I'll never surrender, damn it!