Sooner or later, every writer hits a point where they lose interest in continuing to write a story that isn’t finished yet. This isn’t the same as getting stuck; when a writer is stuck, they want to continue and intend to continue, but can’t seem to do so for one of a variety of reasons. A writer who’s lost interest doesn’t particularly want to continue.
For a writer who’s under contract, there’s no help for it but to slog on and hope the juice comes back before the deadline arrives. A writer who isn’t under contract can dump the story and move on to something else, which may or may not be the right decision, but which is always a hard decision.
Abandoning a story halfway through – truly abandoning it, without mumbling about coming back to it someday – is not an easy thing, even when the writer knows for certain that the story has gone totally cold and isn’t likely to warm up any time in the next couple of centuries. And a lot of the time “losing interest” isn’t really about the story going cold.
So what is it about, then? Well, what kinds of things make one reluctant to sit down and work on a story?
1) The plot and/or characters have gotten predictable, pedestrian, and boring…at least as far as the writer is concerned. Sometimes, this is because the writer has more experience as a reader; the idea that seemed fresh and exciting when she started writing turns out to have been fresh only because the writer hadn’t run across the multitude of similar stories doesn’t look so cool when she’s reading the forty-leventh story of the same type. Sometimes, the predictability is simply because the writer has been reviewing the plot too often and too much, and she’s gotten to know it too well. Some writers are more sensitive to this kind of thing than others; the extreme case is the writer who gets bored with the story if she knows anything about what comes next.
2) The story is technically more than a little too stretchy, and the writer is tired of not being able to get it down properly and sees no prospect of ever getting it the way he wants it. A writer who feels as if he is making progress is usually willing to hang in there, but banging your head against a stone wall is not something anyone wants to keep doing if they have a choice.
3) The writer has taken so long to write the story that they have outgrown their interest in the premise, the plot, or the characters. The novel I started writing in 7th grade never really even reached the mid-point of the story; by the time I’d gotten thirty or so pages into it, I wanted to write better-conceived, more consistent, more grown-up stories. So I left it and never looked back. The same thing can happen to adult writers; the plots and worlds and characters and problems I was deeply interested in when I was in college don’t draw me any more.
4) The writer finds she has said everything she had to say about those characters or subject. This one usually affects writers who’ve been writing a series, often a popular, long-running one. After a while, you get to the point where you’re just done with those people or that place.
5) The writer has taken so long to write the story that the real world has overtaken his premise. This one is a problem for people who do modern, real-world, or near-future stories; the classic example is the way the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s affected all the writers who were in the middle of writing spy thrillers involving the U.S.S.R. when the collapse happened. Any real or near-future story that involves technology in a central way is extremely vulnerable to this kind of thing – what looks like a cutting-edge computer when you’re writing it may very well look like it dates from the last century when the story actually comes out.
6) The story may be moving inexorably in a direction the writer simply doesn’t want to go for some reason. The intricate murder-mystery is turning into a drawing-room comedy, and the writer hates drawing room comedy and is just not going to write it, that’s all. Or perhaps the fast-paced action-adventure is insisting on becoming a psychological drama within a couple of chapters, and that particular psychological drama cuts a little too close to home for the writer to want to write about it now (or, maybe, ever).
Some of these problems are fixable; others aren’t. If the world overtakes your near-future plot, there’s not much you can do; they’re not going to roll back the Arab Spring just so your novel will still work. If, however, you’re just bored and finding the plot predictable, you can often change things up to rekindle your interest (this is the origin of the well-known advice about having ninjas jump in through the window if you’re stuck). Outgrowing your story or your series is a good thing, at least in a personal sense (though if one has been making one’s living from a series one can no longer stand to write, it seldom seems so at the time).
The main thing, though, is to be quite, quite certain that one really has lost interest, and is not simply avoiding writing a tricky or unpleasant bit that’s coming next. Because one cannot avoid the tricky and unpleasant bits completely or forever, and while it probably doesn’t hurt to abandon one novel or story in the middle every so often, abandoning a whole string of them sets up a pattern of bad habits that can be really hard to break.