Can You Revive Your Old, Unfinished Novels?

Have you ever had that one story that you could never seem to write properly, but you keep making attempts every few years to reboot it as your skills as a writer increase?

I have a few of those myself. And with the new year, there was one in particular that I decided I wanted to spend more time on.

However, there’s always a few problems with trying to revive stories like this and I’d like to talk about a few of them, so you can be on the lookout. Each person will have their own solutions to these and, since they’re situational based on individuals and specific projects, I can’t talk as much about solutions.

#1 – The age of the story itself

I don’t know how long you’ve been holding onto your draft, but I’ve had mine since I was fourteen years old.

I have spent so many years looking back at this novel that I have an idealized version of it in my head. It has been around so long that its kind of like an old friend.

This makes it rather hard to work on it or let go of aspects that should be revised. And if your story is as old as mine is, there’s a LOT that needs to be revised and we’re just going to have to get used to it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it has to be done.

#2 – The genre

Personally, I go through phases with regard to genres.

When I first started working on this story, all I wrote was fantasy. Since then, I’ve dabbled in multiple different genres from sci-fi to thriller to urban fantasy.

My outlook on the fantasy genre both changed a lot and not at all. Either way, it’s something I have to reckon with while piecing this book back together.

#3 – Your style

If you’re writing regularly, your style is going to advance and change. It’s a simple fact of what happens when you grow as a writer. I know I’ve learned a lot about writing since I first began this book.

This issue also affects your choices about the plot. And that’s where I find the real issues can start. I have a very different idea now of what makes a story good.

One other note is that I have a very different idea of what makes a story dark and how much can happen to my characters within reason, without the story turning into a hopeless bloodletting mess. When I was younger, I had a very disproportionate idea of how much darkness could fit in a story and I tended to lean too heavily on it to move the plot along.

Instead, I’m having to cut back on what I’d previously had in the story and emphasizing other elements as well.

#4 – Your understanding of the characters

Not only did I have to reevaluate whether or not I knew these people I’d created, but I even had to rename a few of them (or at least alter their names).

I had to go through each character and review/revise their history, personality, and present situation at the time the story starts.

Not only did this take massive amounts of time, but I realized there were a lot of holes that I needed to fill.

#5 – Worldbuilding??

Speaking of holes …

This area was the worst offender on that front.

I had no idea what I was doing when it came to worldbuiling. For years, I either have done too much or too little. I often emphasized all the wrong parts for a story, knowing too much about the country’s foreign policy when I really should’ve paid attention to their societal rules.

Being able to fix this of course comes with experience, but I find with every old story I try to revive this is one of the main problems.

#6 – Your understanding of the world in general

Does this one need to be said?

As we grow, both as people and as writers, we form a deeper understanding of the world around us. So if you started the book as a teenager and you’re an adult now, there will be so much you’ve learned, whether you realize it consciously or not.

This will also become a hangup as you try to reboot these old projects and you’ll have to reckon with your new worldview.


One of the most fascinating aspects of trying to revive an old project is how obvious it becomes that you’ve grown and changed (as a writer and as a person). Your style has improved; your view of genre is probably different; you’ve learned a lot about the craft, about yourself, and about the world.

All of these things are good, even if they make working on this old novel rather difficult.

You’ll make the story even better than it was before if you’re willing to devote the effort to it. I know you’ve got it in you. And you’re definitely not alone in the effort!

Happy writing!

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