Since my first book (excluding a chapbook of poetry I self-published), a short story collection called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye, is coming out soon, and I’m in the process of publishing a novel as well, I’ve reflected on my past attempts at writing books. I’ve been trying to write one since I was about 20 years old and I’m currently 30. I’d always either lose motivation or just come to hate the idea behind the book I was working on. I also have a few I started and haven’t finished or conceived and haven’t started. I may or may not write those at some books at some point, but these are ones I definitely never will.
1. Control Factor
I’m pretty sure this was my first attempt. It began as a short story that I wanted to expand. It was conceived of as an attempt to re-write the play Woyzeck as a dystopian novel. It was about an unemployed former journalist who volunteers for a doctor’s experiments to make money. He meets a woman who he falls and love with, but the relationship quickly goes south. Meanwhile, a serial killer is stalking the city.
It was a directionless mess. It’s no wonder I lost motivation after writing two or three chapters.
2. Untitled Young Adult Science Fiction Novel
If Control Factor wasn’t my first attempt, this was. It never got past the note-taking stage. I never even came up with a title for it. It was about a college student who discovered that some of his fellow students are aliens researching the viability of an invasion. The big “twist” is that the aliens decide that Earth is too worthless to invade and the protagonist has an existential crisis.
I wanted it to be a young adult novel that was commercially viable. The problem is I realized I don’t like most “young adult” books and the thought of trying to make it fit that mold made me give up.
3. Lucifer the Lightbearer
Now this was a pretentious piece of crap. It was supposed to be a long Pynchon-esque postmodern urban fantasy novel.
The plot was that Satan escapes from Hell and becomes a private detective on Earth. However, demons start escaping from Hell as well and running rampant. So Satan (going by the name “Sam” for various silly reasons) puts on a mask and starts fighting them. There was also a female boxer who sort of becomes his sidekick and an anarchist gang that rode bicycles.
I was going to write each chapter in a different style. For example, the prologue was written as a film script (specifically a parody of superhero movies), one was a stream of conscious ramble that takes place in Hell, another was a series of blog posts about a guy who loses his mind as he gets involved with a succubus.
It was ambitious to say the least. It was also really bloated and pretentious. It had some of the most overwrought prose I’ve ever written. Trying to keep that up burned me out. So I quit.
4. Apartments for Rent
The original title I had for my upcoming collection, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye, was Brochures for Tours of Various Midwestern Graveyards. I’m not even sure where that title came from. I envisioned it as being a collection of bizarro and horror stories and it would have a companion collection of realist fiction called Apartments for Rent.
Of the stories I’d written for it, there was only one I was actually happy with and I was writing less and less fiction in a realist vein. I decided to add that story to The Complete Idiot’s Guide…, as it still fits the tone of the book, and scrap the idea of doing a whole book of short realist stories.
I actually posted an excerpt from this attempt on my blog and it was eventually re-purposed into a short story in my upcoming collection. I thought putting it out in public would motivate me to finish the novel. That obviously wasn’t the case.
This one didn’t have much of a plot. It was a sad guy existential novel with a lot of magic realist elements. Alex, the main character and prototype for the Alex in my upcoming novel The Story of the Y, dies in bicycle accident and at his funeral his alcoholic father spills whiskey on him. This causes him to resurrect and from then on he’s immortal. He discovers this when he suffers several other accidents that should kill him, but don’t. He also has conversations with his reflection and is haunted by his grandmother’s ghost.
It might have been the lack of the plot, but I just couldn’t get it moving along. Still, I was on the right path with it. The novel I have being published is stylistically similar to what I was going for with Zombieman.
Despite having failed to finish and put out those five books, I now have two books coming out this year. So if you’re having problems finishing your own book or any other creative endeavor, don’t be discouraged. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right.
Ben Arzate lives in Iowa. He is a regular contributor to Cultured Vultures. His fiction, poetry, and reviews have been published in various places in print and online. His first novel, Story of the Y, is forthcoming from Cabal Books. His first short story collection, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Saying Goodbye, is forthcoming from NihilismRevised. His first poetry collection, the sky is black and blue like a battered child, is available on Amazon. Click here to check out his blog.