There might be times when you want to abandon your latest writing project completely.
Trust me, I’ve been there. It’s happened to me with both short stories and novels in the last ten years. You hit a certain point where you think to yourself, this thing totally sucks. This is so bad it’s not worth writing another sentence.
It just happened to me in the last month! I spent the entire summer thinking about a new short story idea, and when I finally decided how to approach it in terms of character and POV, I started writing it in mid-September.
The process was going well for awhile, but at the halfway point of the story I began giving up on it. It wasn’t going in the direction I wanted or expected. I literally stopped writing it for a whole week, which isn’t like me.
I hit a point in the story where I felt like it was better to abandon it than to go on. That the world was better off if I just never did anything with it.
The story didn’t make sense. Parts of it were confusing. I was ready to delete the file from my hard-drive, that’s how serious I was about letting it go.
But here’s the thing — no matter how you feel about it, finish the project anyway.
You can’t revise a project, can’t make it better, if you don’t finish it first. If you really hate it, fine. But finish it anyway. Pull your hair, scream, pound your fists against the desk if you must, but finish the thing as best you can.
If you don’t want to look at the project for six months or longer, again, fine. I don’t even care if you never look at it again.
But who knows — a long time from now you might want to revisit that story or novel or whatever it is. And you’ll be able to actually fix it and make it better if you finished it the first time around! If the piece is only half done? You might read it and want to continue with it, or you might not. If you don’t finish it, there’s no guarantee it will ever be completed in the future.
Two weeks ago I finally had an afternoon to resume working on my new story. It had at least another 1,000 words to go, and I really didn’t want to work on it, I’d definitely lost my enthusiasm for it, but I said to myself, Brian, you finish what you start, always. Finish the thing. You have to.
So I did. In about two hours I pounded out an ending to the story and wrote THE END at the bottom. The story itself wasn’t long, just 4200 words. I still thought it sucked big time. But the piece had a beginning, middle, and end, and that was something.
The best reason to finish the project is so that you can revise it… and eventually make it better!
I know you might not be able to see it now, but that first draft is exactly that… a first draft. It’s the best job you can do at the time.
Once you finish it, go out and celebrate. Whether you love it or hate it, just finishing the thing is always an accomplishment. Let it rest for a few days, even a few weeks if you want, and then if at all possible, go back to the project. Read it again. Read it slowly and fully to understand what might not be working.
Then take the time needed to complete a second draft, a third draft, a fourth draft. Maybe more than that. I’ve completed ten or more drafts of many of my novels and stories. You have to do what’s necessary to make your latest project the best it can be.
After I finished the first draft of my new story that I hated, I let it rest for a few days, then last week I read through it again and started work on a second draft. I still didn’t like that second draft very much.
But then I did a third draft, and that one read a little better. The story was beginning to make sense.
Then I did a fourth draft. I cut two sections. I added a little bit to the beginning and to the end. The story started to read smoother. Started to have more clarity.
You know what happened after I finished the fifth draft on Sunday? I actually came to like my story. I realized I had something kind of unique and powerful.
I still believe that first draft is a stinker. But the fifth draft? It’s surprisingly kind of good!
Yesterday I did a sixth draft, and then I read through the story one last time, looking for typos and grammar mistakes. Then I sent the story out to five literary magazines. That piece I hated a mere few weeks ago… is now officially on submission!
So don’t abandon your latest writing project, okay?
I hated my story for awhile, wanted to abandon it, but I finished it anyway, and then revised for more than a week. Now the piece is pretty good, surprisingly enough, and it’s on submission to literary magazines. Who knows. Maybe it will be published one day soon!
This is what writing is. This is what separates the successful writer from the amateur writer, I’m telling you. Not giving up. Giving your latest piece everything you have until it’s done.
I don’t care if it’s a story or a poem or a novel or an essay. Whatever it is, if you believe in that piece, and you give it your all, don’t panic if a section doesn’t work, or if you find yourself hating the project after awhile.
Keep going anyway… and finish the thing. You can fix what’s not working later. You can do ten drafts in the weeks to come if you need to.
Just finish the thing, always… and there’s no telling how much you’ll be able to achieve in your long writing life!