Start by setting the project aside and go work on another one.
I had a similar project that I started in high school and went years on it, trying to make it work. I'd get stuck at the same point, go off and work on short stories for a while, come back, and still get stuck again. Then one day, someone offered to be a cowriter (we later broke up). I thought about it and realized that I needed to at least set the novel aside for the time being if I wanted to finish a novel. So I set aside the old story with the promise to return to it later.
So I finished the new novel, and when I did, I understood why I could never get the other story to work. Childhood to adulthood is a big change -- I was no longer the person who started that story. I'd grown out of it.
Some stories are not meant to be finished. Especially, if they're bogging you down and keeping you from making progress.
Childhood to adulthood is a big change -- I was no longer the person who started that story. I'd grown out of it.
I think you've hit the problem here. But it's somewhat the same with other stages in life. If you've been slugging away for several years on the same novel, it's probably grown stale and you need a new project. Don't throw the old stuff out, though. It could have pieces that can be salvaged in the future.
"Good reading is the only test of good writing" Robertson Davies.A voice from the attic 1960
It's time to set the project aside. It's holding you back from growing as a writer.
Go and work on new projects. FInish those projects and learn from the process. Grow as a writer.
You may go back to the old project, but you may not. As mentioned before, you may love the memory of the idea, but you as a person and a writer may have grown out of it. I have two story ideas like that.
Don't think the writing and plotting and planning you did on the old idea ever goes to waste. You learned from it, and it got you writing in the first place. Also, you never know what ideas from it might pop up in future works (this has happened to me).
But, for right now: yes, put the project aside. Right now it is hurting you.
Your writing abilities have surely come a long way. It must feel as if someone else wrote it.
One option is to start over with the parts of that idea you like. If you're an outliner, outline the project again. Start writing from chapter one again. Your improved abilities and experiences will help you write it better.
BUT... be sure you're ready.
I have a story just like this. I wrote it 15 years ago. Love the characters, love the idea, hate how I wrote it. Hate how I wrote the characters. They come off all wrong.
I do want to rewrite it, and I will someday. Just not now.
I've moved on to other writings. Short stories, other novels, I'm even trying my hand at a novella.
The biggest thing I'm going to tell you learn to walk away. Some projects need to be walked away from. Some are just scary but can be tackled.
Don't let yourself get so stressed out about this one project that you can't write.
"...time is getting away from me and I still don't have a single draft".
This isn't a race. There isn't a deadline where we have to be published or have 10 novels written.
Focus on the craft, on creation, and the rest will come.
If you want to try something different, take a look at the monthly challenges.
I hope I didn't ramble on, and that something here helped.
But other than that . . . I'd say to start branching out and stop focusing on the one story. There are very few authors who ever made it with just one story anyway. Start practicing on other things, hone your skills, and then go back and redo this one.
Although I also want to say, "maybe it's time to work on something else" I would ask: do you still WANT to work on this story? Do you still care about the story, not because of all the time you've spent on it, but because the project itself is important to you. Do you know WHY it's important? Do you know what still geeks you about the story?
If you just don't really have that desire to tell that story anymore or even if you don't want to do deal with the work involved in continuing on with it, then yes it's time to set it aside and move on to something else. On the other hand, if you're still passionate about it, maybe there's value in staying with it. BUT- very important big BUT- you have to finish it and not get bogged down in endless fixes and rewrites and revamps that prevent you from making progress.
That's when you need to ask: Do you know why you feel like you're wasting your time? Is it because you don't like the story or because you think you can't get it right?
The reason I suggest these questions (and answering them honestly) is that you may end up getting into the same situation with a new project. You may find a new story that you're passionate about, but if you end up mired in fiddling and backtracking and second guessing endlessly then you end up frustrated and stuck with that one too. If you have to abandon a project because you've just lost interest in it, that's one thing. Having to abandon it because you can't get to the end of a first draft is a different problem, and one that's likely to haunt every project.
So if you're still excited about this story, but you haven't been able to finish because of endless editing or because of not believing you CAN finish, you have to deal with that first, whether you choose to continue with the old story or start a new one.
I believe finishing is important. I don't think finishing fast is necessary. I don't think everything that gets started has to be finished either. And there's nothing wrong with doing editing and rework on a first draft. But if you aren't constantly moving closer to that finish line, then that's where things get problematic. That shouldn't be something you let discourage you, but it is a mindset you have to be aware of so you can prevent it from being the reason you walk away from a story you love.
The big question first: "Do you know why you feel like you're wasting your time?"
Absolutely, I'm so bleeding disorganized that I couldn't find a needle in a stack of needles as far as any creative project is concerned. I re-write without knowing it, later to find a similar (if not verbatim) passage on my hard drive. It sometimes feels as though I've written the same story many times (but never bothered to finish it)
Now, the important question: "Do you still WANT to work on the story?"
I am reasonably certain that I do, any time I have nothing to distract me (I am VERY easily distracted) my thoughts return to this story of a boy who tries to do some good.
I do believe your last sentiment struck the loudest chord. "... if you aren't constantly moving closer to that finish line, then that's where things get problematic"
When I was much younger (middle school aged) I was in the process of writing two other stories, they had no direction, and honestly, no point to them besides being written. I took two separate characters (one as the main protagonist for each story) and just ran with them. I never finished them because honestly, I hadn't thought about an ending, I hadn't even thought ABOUT ending them. Those were fun times.
If you're wondering, I lost the notebooks I had written down those two juvenile stories in long ago. Rather unfortunate, as they were (in my eyes) extremely poorly written but fun nonetheless.
I will check out that article and see if it helps, thank you for the link.
Have you tried any methods of outlining or story planning? Planning doesn't work for everyone, but it might be just the ticket to help the disorganization problem. I'd suggest trying a few different methods. Don't feel like you have to stick with a method faithfully. Only do as much planning as feels useful or helpful and when it comes to outlining techniques, take what works and discard the rest. At the least I would suggest figuring out the overall story with start and end points (this isn't the plot, just the core story idea)
i.e. "MC sees injustice. Tries to do some good. Fails horribly. Tries again with help from kind helpmeet secondary MC. Succeeds"
Figuring out the plot points might also be helpful too since you have so much background already. eg. What is the specific injustice? What does he try to do? How does he fail? etc.
My guess is that seeing that roadmap and the finish line will help you to get and keep the story moving towards the end.
I found the root of the problem. I was clinging to the parts that I had already written as a drowning man clings to wreckage (appropriate but trite analogy)
Though nothing was discarded, I've decided to go back to square one, and allow myself to see where the story takes me now that I'm older (definitely), wiser (doubtful), and better versed in the craft. The results thus far have made me smile, of the same type I had on my wedding day.
Now if only I could find the motivation to do things that weren't sleeping or watching imbecilic youtube videos...
I had a lot of those moments. I began writing when I was in junior high, and there are a lot of abandoned projects littering the road between there and age 39. Some of them are ideas that I still really like and may return to some day. Some are ideas that, for whatever reason, I know will never be finished. Some of those, I put significant work into before they were abandoned, but they're stories that are just not for me to write. It happens.
Set the project aside, at least for now, and move on to something else -- something that excites you right now. Maybe you'll return to it, maybe you won't. I recently picked up one of the very first short stories that I submitted for publication back in high school. It wasn't very good in that form, but in February I turned it into the first draft of a book that I'm really proud of. You never know when the spark might strike.
More importantly, don't critique yourself while you're working on the project you choose to do next. The best advice I've ever been given is the old adage to allow yourself to write crap. Get it down. That's the most important thing. Once it's there, you can worry about editing, polishing and turning it into the book you envisioned.