You have finished your novel. You breathe a big sigh of relief when you type, THE END. Writing 80,000-100,000 words is certainly not for the faint of heart. You set it aside and let it rest. When you return to it and read the whole thing, you realize–with a sinking feeling in your gut–that it sucks. First, you feel depressed. Then you feel overwhelmed that you have to go back and rewrite the whole thing. Maybe you do have to bin the entire manuscript or maybe parts of it are salvageable. Either way, you know deep down that it does not work. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us at some point in our writing journey.
Your first task is to identify what is not working. Perhaps the plot is not believable. You look for plot holes. Go through and make sure all the loose ends are tied up. Aunt Sally mentioned back in Chapter 16 needed to go for a breast biopsy, did you follow through with that? Was it even necessary to mention her? Other plot holes include jumping from A to C without mentioning B. It happens. Or maybe your main character (MC) does not have a character arc. That happens too. Maybe the trope is tired and worn. There could be multiple things that are wrong with it.
Have Someone Read It
It would not hurt to get a fresh pair of eyes or multiple eyes to look at it and tell you what specifically is wrong with it. Ask your friends or the other writers in your group, with the latter being preferable. Beg them not to sugar coat it. You can do all this, fix it and it can still not work. It is just missing that certain something that you cannot put your finger on.
Learn from Your Experience
What you do is this: put it in a drawer and move onto the next project. Do not beat yourself up because it was not a total waste. You have learned something from the experience, whether it was to address a character defect, a plot hole or an unbelievable ending, it was not a waste of time. And most importantly, you will have finished it.
Lots of people talk about writing a book, but very few actually get around to doing it. How do you know if you learned something? Because in a few years, you will stumble across that manuscript, you will read it, and you will cringe at what you wrote because now you are a better writer.
You learned your craft. You learned the rules, you fixed what was broken, you engaged with other writers; and most of all, you kept on writing.