When Is a Creative Writing Exercise a Potential Novel?

How does a writer know when their writing project has become more than just a creative exercise? Can the writer, who is so close to the work, ever be objective enough about his or her manuscript to know if this story or that plot line, is THE ONE? Aside from the help of a few beta readers, who, as we all know, harbor their own prejudices and preferences, are writers equipped to determine if our current projects have what it takes to make it?

I ask, in all honesty, because there is so much effort, time and tears devoted to the painstaking process of writing our novels, I find it necessary to explore the answers to these questions.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say with certainty, that working on the “wrong” story can be likened to being sucked into a black hole–a place in which you lose all sense of time, reality and awareness.

You give yourself over to a project you believed (once) had merit, only to surface months, or even years, later realizing you’ve made a costly mistake–that you’ve chosen to pour all your valuable time as a writer into a story that simply doesn’t work.

Whether it be that you’ve discovered you were writing in the wrong genre, or you know your plot line or characters have derailed in a way (no story ought to), in the end, the truth is that you’ve sunk your precious resources into something that will not produce positive results (except perhaps the learning experience of knowing–in the future–what not to do).

I don’t claim to have the answers. But, I know, as a teacher of seventeen years (who employs the Socratic Method), that it is crucial to ask the right questions, in an effort to explore our options.

  1. What signs might help writers identify he or she is working on the wrong project?
  2. Is there such a thing as a “wrong” project when all writing experiences teaches us something in the end?
  3. Can we trust completely in our beta readers to identify a viable and potential success story?
  4. Are writing groups a place to seek help from likeminded folks or are all writers from from a different cloth?
  5. Are there forums out there that share these types of experiences in order to warm others against pitfalls?
  6. Is it feasible to think a writer might be able to decide on a project and ever be certain of its merit and potential?
  7. Are all our writing efforts seeds we watch grow without knowing if they are weeds?

There are endless questions and, no doubt, endless answers to this issue. As I continue to learn from my writing experiences, I will continue to post the knowledge I acquire along the way. As I am still very very green (with only three solid years devoted the serious craft of creating fiction), I will end this post by predicting, I will be sharing lots more, as I have much to learn.