How do you know when to give up on a project?

Buried under paperThis question was posed in a post over at the fabulous Nathan Bransford blog.

Bransford was asking readers when they decide it’s time to lay a current project to rest.

It’s an interesting question for writers. After all the effort- and blood, sweat, and tears-writers put into their work, is there a moment when you realize it might be better to simply call it a day and move on to something else?

The classic case is the first novel. Most writers plunge in to writing, with the classic “learning-by-doing” approach – writing that first novel. The problem is, after gaining experience, working with critique groups and honing in on the craft of writing, writers can often be quite critical about their first attempt and set it aside, dubbing it a practice novel.

Maybe we should think of those first attempts like our first high school boyfriends or girlfriends. A few exceptions may go on to turn those high school sweethearts into lifetime partners, but the vast majority of us tend to wonder – what was I thinking back then?

Life experiences changes us and turn us into different people, and the same thing happens to writers as we learn more about our chosen craft and begin reading others’ works through the eyes of a writer.

But now you know what you’re doing (at least most days, when fueled by enough coffee), you’re all excited about a new project, you steamroll along, piling up page after page. And then, crash.

The inspiration is gone.

What do you do, writers? Do you give up? Delete it from your computer’s hard drive for all eternity? Force yourself to keep going? Go for a jog/long bath/holiday before getting back to the work? Set it aside and work on something else, coming back to it when you’re ready?


  1. Emily Jane on June 20, 2014 at 7:58 am

    Never give up! There is diamond somewhere in every idea.

    • kimberlysullivan on June 24, 2014 at 8:31 am

      True! I agree with you on the diamond in the rough theory. Sometimes it just needs a little more time for polishing and reflection to come out. : )

  2. Nicola Layouni on June 20, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    Hey, hon. 🙂 In all the decades I’ve been a scribbler, I only ever bailed on one story. Probably because I’d written the story before, albeit a slightly different version, and I got bored. I had nowhere new to go with the newest incarnation.

    On my darkest creative days, when I’m suffering from a bout of writerly constipation, I plonk my butt in the chair and force myself to pick out letters until words appear and the blockage clears. (It always has so far. Touch wood!)


    • kimberlysullivan on June 24, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Thanks, Nicola. I’m like you, I actually go back to old stories I may have abandoned, so I never give up on them all together. Hope finalization on your sequel is coming along well – can we expect it this summer?

      • Nicola Layouni on June 24, 2014 at 1:49 pm

        Yes, hon. I’m aiming to release ‘Wolfsbane’ in early August. IF I manage to get all the editing done in time!


  3. evelyneholingue on June 22, 2014 at 1:42 am

    This is a good and important question. I wrote many, many picture book manuscripts that received (for some of them) good comments, but I was never able to sell any. I ended up realizing that the market was slowing down in this genre and quit writing PB. Retrospectively I think I spent too much time trying to enter a market that was saturated. On the other hand, now that it is rebounding a little, maybe I should have stuck to the genre and push my chance.
    In general, I don’t give up on a story if I really like it. I tend to drag my feet if at some point I loose interest. In this case I ask myself if I care for the people I created. I still think that completing a manuscript, despite the challenges or the boredom, is worthy of the effort. Being finished with a first draft is the only way to know if it is a story with potential. So I wouldn’t give up unless I read a published book on a too similar topic. It happens sometimes.

    • kimberlysullivan on June 24, 2014 at 8:36 am

      Great comments, Evelyne. Thanks! Ah, you worked on picture books, too? A market I know nothing about, but I love reading them. Hmmm, I know that foot-dragging stage well, but, like you, I generally tend to go back to a story, and usually with fresh interest/perspective. I agree that you need the whole novel to make sense of it, see if it works, rework sections that don’t, etc.

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