I recently wrote about sticking to a project; about not giving up. But what if your work in progress really isn’t working? How do you know when it is time to give up?
There are no easy answers to this. If you’ve invested a large amount of time and effort in your work you won’t want to ditch it. However, there are times when deep down you know a project has hit the wall.
Painting by Eduardo Kingman, 1962
This happened to me recently. I lost all interest and passion in my novel in progress. I know that this will inevitably happen with any long project. I wrote about not giving up, about working through the bad times. But when you have put your MS away for a while and you still dread working on it, perhaps it is time to think again, just as it has been for me. If you aren’t interested in your project, your reader won’t be either. I’m not talking about the usual doubts and lack of confidence we all experience from time to time – I’m talking about knowing when the project has lost its focus, when you need to acknowledge that the story isn’t going anywhere, when you have a deep-down gut feeling that this isn’t the one. This is not a good feeling. But it needs to be acknowledged.
Perhaps the questions to ask are these:
1. Is the idea original or has it been done a hundred times before?
2. Does your novel/story have a plot or is it just a series of ideas?
3. Have you sent it out and received endless rejections? I know that great novels can be rejected many times but perhaps the rejections are telling you something. The book might not be bad but perhaps it doesn’t have quite enough zing. It’s like a boyfriend or girlfriend you really like – you keep convincing yourself that you should stay with them but you know something essential is missing.
4. Are you bored with it and know this isn’t ‘writer’s block’ but something much more fundamental?
5. Is the manuscript so flawed that it needs a complete re-write but you find you can’t be bothered? You’d rather go on holiday/take up skydiving, bake cakes/do anything but work on this project.
6. Do you have no ending for the book and can’t think of one? Or you’ve changed the ending so many times it’s affecting the rest of the book – and again you can’t be bothered to start again and re-write the whole thing?
If the answers to all these questions are yes, yes, yes, it might be time to make that painful decision. But whatever you do, don’t throw away your manuscript – keep a copy of it on the computer or a hard copy. It isn’t a failure. You will have learned a lot. You might even return to the story later, or use one of the characters from it.
‘The phoenix must burn to emerge.’ - Janet Fitch.
I’m not suggesting you burn your manuscript! I’d advise you to keep a hard copy and/or a copy on your computer. You might want to come back to it later, or use parts of it. But let it metaphorically burn to make way for the new.
Bronwen is the author of three books of fiction. Her novella-in-flash ‘Listen with Mother’ will be coming out this summer. She has recently ditched her novel in progress and is wondering whether to take up knitting.