Knowing When to Quit

Today’s blog post is going to be a little different from what I usually do in my final post of the month. However, I came to a decision a month or two ago regarding a specific writing project of mine. That is, I decided to stop working on it for the time being, and focus on something else.

It was not exactly an easy decision. To me, as I was writing it, I couldn’t help but think, “This is the best this story has ever been.” And I should hope so. I first began writing this project late October of 2013. That six years of hard work encompassed hiccups and false starts and an ungodly amount of revisions. It had plenty of wins, too, including not giving up on the project before it had a chance to find out what it could be.

At the tail-end of September, I finished what I had assumed was my final draft. I might’ve cried a little. And it was exciting, too, because we were entering uncharted territory. I had already begun researching how to write a query letter. I spent several hours searching the 2019 Writer’s Market for agents to submit to. I was ready, it was time, I couldn’t bear the thought of doing any more revisions.

Then my writing friend made a suggestion, and it stopped the entire process in its tracks. She said, “Make sure the first few chapters, at least, are solid, because that’ll be those agents’ first impression of you.” Excellent advice, don’t get me wrong. After some reluctance, I returned to the manuscript and did a heavy revision of the prologue. But it was a good prologue! Much improved. For the most part, it would have been enough. After all, I had chosen six agents to send the manuscript to in the first wave, and all but one asked either for just the query letter or the first ten pages. But then there was one that asked for a lot more. I think the first fifty? Obviously, that covered a bigger chunk of writing, and as I skimmed through those first fifty pages to gauge how long it would take me, I couldn’t ignore the truth any longer.

I’m learning as I go along. Writing is a craft that requires hands-on experience in order to get better at it. Many of the subjects I choose to write about on my blog are lessons I learned the hard way. Last month I wrote a blog post discussing giving minor characters some agency beyond just what is required of them for the main plot. In large part, this post was sparked by contemplation of what went wrong in my first project. The plot was good, but the narrative didn’t dedicate enough time to exploring character motives. The setting didn’t seem real enough, and didn’t give the characters enough chance to be who they were. I knew for a while that something was missing, but I hadn’t wanted to think about it too much, because I couldn’t stand the idea of starting from scratch yet again.

And that, my friends, is when I decided it was time to put that project on hold. To shelf it for the time being. It feels a lot like quitting, but it isn’t, because I will go back to it when I’m ready. But I will not rush a story just to be done with it, and I will not work on a project if my heart isn’t in it anymore.

Writing is incredibly difficult. Not all projects work out, or even if they do, not all of them will make it easy. Sometimes it’s tempting to put it away and never look back. I ran into plenty of those moments while working on that project, and it was only my writing friend who told me to keep going. I’m glad she did. That’s because there’s a difference between quitting because it’s hard and quitting because it’s not working out, and the writing process itself doesn’t make it easy to differentiate between the two. The key is to see the story’s potential. I know there’s still quite a bit that needs to be doctored up with that project. I also know there’s a lot of good stuff in there, and that the good is worth the effort of fixing up the bad. I just… wasn’t sure I was ready yet to face the Revision Monster once more.

So I made a decision. After six years of being focused on one project, there were quite a few story ideas I’d put on hold. One in particular felt like it was ready to be written. So I would. I would start this new project, and every time a thought about the old one came to me, I’d write that down. With any luck, by the time I’m done with the new, I’ll be armed with everything I need to fix up the old. I already have a few ideas. Until then, well, I’ve already fallen in love with my newest project, and I cannot wait to see where it will take me.


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