When To Give Up On Your Forever Work-In-Progress Novel

For many obvious reasons, this year has been garbage, but let’s talk specifically writing. Story time:

I have had this book I’ve been working on for around 5 years. I’ve never spent more than 15 months on a novel, so the work I called While The Tide Rolled In was something special to me; frustratingly special. I wrote it in completion in the first year or so and then intensive editing began. As I went through it looking for grammatical errors and areas that needed more description, I realized much bigger problems with it. There were major flaws within the storyline. There were characters that entered the story and then never appeared again. There were characters I no longer liked. There were scenes I hated. I began to understand the work that lay in front of me, it was no longer the usual hill of revisions, it was a mountain I wasn’t prepared for.

“It was no longer the usual hill of revisions, it was a mountain I wasn’t prepared for.”

So I printed a test copy in order to read it like a book. It helped me critique my own work as if it were someone else’s novel. And boy did I hate so much of it. But not all of it. I was able to see the beauty of what I set out to achieve. The honeymoon phase of our relationship was over and what was left was a relationship in shambles that needed so much work.

Sooner rather than later, I began to put off any work on the novel. When I would think about working on it, I’d get a rush of frustration and anxiety. It didn’t help that I had planned on this work to get me out of the self publishing game and maybe actually make a name for myself. That pressure buried me into a state of contempt for the book I used to love.

I had some options in front of me. Rewrite the entire book, that was undeniably the best option in terms of putting out the best possible product. I could continue to nitpick so many parts and have the novel be parts older draft, parts newer. I did the latter for a while because it seemed like a less daunting task. However I soon realized the specific voice I wrote in then, was not the one I wrote during the original draft.

So I tried to restart. I hit CTRL-N on Microsoft Word and began with a fresh blank document. Spoiler: It didn’t work.

So much time had gone by that I found myself out of love with the story and its characters. It was horrible when I realized this. The actual thought of giving the story up was one I wasn’t familiar with and I hated it. Especially after so much time, so much work and effort; how could I give up? Writers were never supposed to give up were they?

I fought with this feeling for months. I didn’t touch the forever work in progress that my novel was. I spoke with other writers about it. Some of them had experience with this, others hadn’t. But the most appealing advice I was given was to let it go.

“Tell yourself it’s over. Close the document and tell yourself the book isn’t meant to be finished,” a friend said.

And I did. I told myself ‘this book will never be published. It will never be read by anyone but myself. It will never truly complete. When I did this, I was surprised to find myself feeling very okay. It was freeing to not be burdened by the thought of finishing it. Because even still there were two things that could happen: First, this renewed feeling could give me new life and vigor to maybe try again with it, or lastly, be actually done with it. It would just take believing that I would never open that document again.

Nearly a year later, I have never opened the document again and I’m okay with it. I’ve flirted with other stories, but I’m taking my time. Even though While The Tide Rolled In will never be read by anyone – and that does suck to think about sometimes, I still grew as a writer.

Your work doesn’t need to be finished or published in order for you to progress into the next place you’re supposed to be.

I’m not telling you to give up. But if you find yourself at constant war with a piece of work and that mountain isn’t giving way, maybe allow yourself the ability to not only take a break, but to walk away and not come back and write something even better.

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