Writers: On (Temporary) Mid-Draft Abandonment


Do you abandon your writing projects?

At least, temporarily?

I’ve written about this a bit before, but I wanted to get into it more today.

Some people will tell you to always  finish what you started and never abandon anything.

I’m going to tell you something different.

Specifically, how and when I find it okay to abandon manuscripts (with plans to return to them later).

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel. I wrote it and rewrote and rewrote it so many times, soon five years had gone by and I’d never written anything else. Just this same book over and over and over again. I wanted it to be perfect, you see.

It wasn’t perfect, and it’s still not perfect, and it’s still not published. Why? Because I spent too much time on it without getting any objectivity from it. And I refused to concede defeat; this was my first novel. My baby. I persisted.

But–I shouldn’t have.

Fast forward a few years. I started writing a novel now known as “The Play Story”. I got about 10,000 words in, got stuck, had this shiny new idea calling to me–and I answered the call.

Then I got stuck on that shiny new idea, went back to The Play Story, and finished the draft. And (though it’s still early) I dare say, that one’s pretty good.

Would I have gotten the same results by powering through that manuscript? I’m not sure. Perhaps. But I believe the break was beneficial.

So how do you know if you should power through and finish the draft, or take a break from it?

I would take a break if:

1. You have manuscript-block that lasts longer than a few days. This is different from generalized writer’s block. Writer’s block is when you can’t write anything. That happens to me, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days. This is how I deal with writer’s block. When I’m having manuscript-block, it means I can’t figure out how to move on with the particular story at hand. And in the meantime…

2. You’re dreaming of another story. My two best works so far have come when I abandoned something else mid-draft because those two new ideas were calling to me. Is it good to constantly get distracted by shiny new idea syndrome? No. You need to finish something. But when sitting down to work on one project is torture while sitting down to draft something else is rainbows and unicorns, I find it most productive to follow my instincts.

3. You’re no more than halfway through the story. All my abandonments have occurred well before the climax. Does that mean you can’t abandon a story mid-climax and successfully return to it? I don’t think so, but when you have that much of it down, my opinion is that you should power through and finish, then take a break and fix it in edits. You’re so close! Just get through it before taking your mind off of it for awhile.

To go along with this: what not to do when taking a break from a project:

1. Don’t stop writing. For more than a week, at least (or even a month, if you’ve just written for a long long time, but I generally don’t stop for more than a week). Taking a break and doing nothing generally leads to more doing nothing. When I stop, I move onto something else (ideally something completely different, i.e. I did mystery, contemporary, fantasy, contemporary, or I’ve switched from past tense to present tense, third person multi-POV to first person single-POV. I find working on the same style thing doesn’t work well for me.) But above all: Write, write, write.

2. Don’t abandon everything you’ve ever written. If you fall into  a pattern of abandoning everything, that’s a problem. No one’s going to publish an incomplete story, no matter how good it is.

3. Don’t beat yourself up. I’ve mentioned this before, but all writing advice is subjective. Do what works for you. I worked on that first novel for so long because I’d read advice that told me to finish what I started keeping working on it persist no matter what. It took me a long time to realize that that advice wasn’t right for me. And it took me just as long to stop feeling bad about the fact that I had unfinished drafts sitting around. In that vein…

4. Don’t follow my advice if it doesn’t work for you. I share this advice because it did work for me, and chances are there are people out there it will work for, too. But I don’t believe it will work for everyone. Some people function better finishing what they started all in one go. And that’s great.

How about you? Do you abandon things midway and return to them later, or do you have to finish what you started? Let me know!

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

4 thoughts on “Writers: On (Temporary) Mid-Draft Abandonment

  1. Last week I decided to take the rest of Feb off writing – I was getting overwhelmed. I’m already itching to get back to it. But I enjoyed the break.

    I have a novel a bit like your five year project. But I’m taking parts of it to put into a brand new story… That’s the project I’ll be getting back to 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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