The Writer’s Notebook: When To Abandon A Project

by Randy Murray on January 30, 2012

Writers start all sorts of projects. Some, perhaps many of those projects just don’t work out.

How do you know when you should abandon a project? Here’s the simple answer: never. Just put it in drawer and wait for its time. You might have a great idea, but you don’t know enough about the subject yet. You might have a wonderful thought, but other things are driving you, holding on to more of your attention. It’s OK to stop. It’s OK to put it in your file drawer. Maybe a better time will be right down the road.

The more complex answer is this: don’t give up too soon.

Every writer will encounter roadblocks, and one of the first of those is showing your work to others. That can often result in what feels like a cruel slap in the face when you hear their first reactions. There’s a simple remedy to this: don’t share your work before it’s ready, but when it’s ready, listen to what people have to say. This will likely help you. Take a deep breath and start again.

There are times when something you’ve started simply isn’t coming together. It doesn’t hold your interest or excite you the way the initial idea did. That’s OK. Put it in the drawer for a month or so, then look again. Good writers come up with lots of ideas. It’s only those things that keep demanding your attention that you should work on. Let everything else stand aside.

I’ve abandoned some big projects. Years ago I wrote three quarters of a mystery novel, then shelved it. It’s possible that I’ll bring it out someday and rewrite it from the start. Likely, even. A couple of years back I wrote a complete comedic time travel novel, but once I finished it I found that I didn’t have enough interest to do the necessary work on it. Not yet, anyway. Plays sometimes take years to percolate through my mental plumbing.

The decision of when to walk away and when to double down is completely yours. I’d urge you to not give up too easily, too soon. This latest play I’ve been wrestling with has been wrestling back for five or six years (I’ve done other work since), and I can feel it getting closer. I am not losing interest or wondering if it will work out. The struggle is part of the creative process.

So struggle. Then walk away and come back another day, refreshed, and do the work.

The Writer’s Notebook: When To Abandon A Project by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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