Never give up! (unless you should)

Ever since I resumed writing five years ago I’ve determined to never give up until a manuscript is finished. I’ve succeeded in that goal, too, even though it took finishing one twice and starting another twice. Once I started a novel I finished it. It was a point of pride.

For the first time I’ve failed. I have abandoned a project. You know, the project I wrote not that long ago about getting myself “unstuck” on. The one I told myself to keep writing, even if I was writing crap. Yeah, that one. It’s back in the The Well, my list of stories I’d like to write some day when the idea is sufficiently developed.

It was really hard to do. But in the end I think it was the kindest thing. I’ve been flailing away at this manuscript for nearly a year now, and it’s continually been in danger of collapsing beneath its own weight. It came to a decision point: either my writing career or this novel had to go. I knew going in that this was a tricky novel. I wasn’t sure I was up to it. It turns out I was probably right.

And it bugs me to death. Writers write. We don’t give up. We keep pushing forward in the face of self-doubt, rejection, and weariness until one day, on the thousand-and-oneth try we hit it big. Isn’t that how the story goes?

I’ve had to convince myself it’s okay to admit defeat. There are just too many problems with this novel, even after starting it twice. Better to set this one aside for now and work on something simpler.

I still feel like a failure. I’m not terribly good at convincing myself.

But I do feel there comes a point when it’s okay to set aside a project and go work on something else rather than torture yourself. In the process of convincing myself I’ve devised a few ideas on how and when it’s okay to give up–at least on the project that is standing in your way of moving forward as a writer.

  1. Finishing is not the trouble. I’ve proven to myself that I can finish projects. I don’t suffer from the same issue as my daughter, who invariably would get about 20k words into a novel and get bored. I’ve finished three out of the last four projects I’ve undertaken (more if you count some short stories I’ve written). I have a track record of success.
  2. It’s not too hard, just too boring. If you don’t even find your story interesting enough to keep you interested that’s probably a strong indicator the problem is the story, not you. It’s okay to let it go and move on to the next project that will grab your attention better.
  3. You really did try. I made two really good efforts, getting about 30k words into it on the first try, then around 60k on the second. It’s not like I wrote a couple pages and got stuck. If it was going to grab me and keep me going like previous projects have done it would have happened already.
  4. I know what a good story feels like. I’ve written three other novels that kept my interest, even through major resets. It was never this hard to keep going.

Those are the main reasons I used in convincing myself it’s okay, that I can’t wrestle ’em all over the finish line–and probably shouldn’t. Not every project is going to be the one to move your career to the next level. Not every manuscript can–or should–be saved. Sometimes it’s okay to mark one down to lessons learned…and move on.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.