Once in my career as a writer, a span of eleven years so far, I pulled a book I'd already published (The Link). I decided, belatedly, that I'd let too much slide -- that I'd put out a book beneath my own standards, silencing my doubts about several key elements. All those elements arose from the same fundamental problem: I'd based my plot on a question without having an adequate answer. As I look back, that wasn't the first time I faced that problem -- but it was the most egregious example.
A while after I made that decision, a science fiction book group of which I'm a member took advantage of my leaving a meeting early by picking my own near-future novel Who as an upcoming selection. The resulting discussion was revelatory. The other members zeroed in on areas where I'd tried to patch weaknesses in the narrative, and made clear those patches had been less than fully effective. (I also learned that if a substantial part of a book involves courtroom drama, I had better make that fact clear in the book's descriptions and other publicity.)
Also part of my learning process: venturing away from science fiction to write historical romance. While there's plenty of plotting to do in a romance novel, the essential plot line -- a couple finds love and a HEA (Happy Ever After) -- is prescribed. I'm not sure how, but working within this limit and then returning to a near-future SF draft (Donation) has made it easier for me to confront the inadequacies of the latter's plot line. Serendipity has also played a role. Because I've had Donation on the back burner, returning to it between other projects, I've been working on it for three years. During that time, societal developments have revealed that a key component of my protagonists' eventual victory might not actually have that effect. (Yes, I'm being coy, largely because getting specific would mean stepping onto treacherous political ground.) At least as important is the fact that the book probably has an anti-technology message I don't intend, and with which I don't agree -- and any attempt to redirect the reader toward a message I do mean is likely, once again, to look like inadequate patchwork.
Add it all up, and I'm wondering whether to put the book aside for a while and hope for the multiple inspirations it'd take to make it worth publishing, or to just move on. The characters have a reality for me, but I've realized that they'll retain that reality whether I publish or no -- and I don't owe it to them to share their story if the story isn't worthy of them.
The upshot? I'm still not sure. As the master of my own publishing schedule, I'm answerable to no one as to whether the book comes out in six months, in two years, or never. (In fact, I haven't entirely given up hope of finding the plot that The Link should have had, and publishing a revised edition.) But I'm more at peace now that I've accepted the possibility that Donation may never reach the public, and would no longer consider that possibility as a failure in any important sense.
Turning my focus away from that book does, however, mean less time before I have to confront the question of what to write next. Will I continue the Cowbird Creek historical romance series after I revise and publish Book 3, What Shows the Heart? If I return to science fiction, what idea sufficiently captivates me? Or should I tackle historical fiction head on, outside the comfort of the romance subgenre?
Time will tell. And when it does, I'll sooner or later tell those who read this blog.