Cover of On abandoned writing

On abandoned writing

You’re writing something that is so immersive and deeply universal that readers everywhere will forget their problems and disappear inside your well-placed words. You are motivated and have the tools, the skills, and the coffee. Your words flow, propelled by your brilliant idea for a novel, play, screenplay, or poem. You’re at it for hours, then you get up and live the physical life for a while.

This is where things get unpredictable. You return to finish a draft, or you don’t. The number of projects artists and writers begin does not always equal the number of completed projects. There are more unfinished projects in the clouds than completed drafts in front of readers’ eyes. Struggling to finish art is a universal problem.

It makes sense. After all, the divine moments of inspiration pass. Life happens. Bills need paid, the world is on fire, or you just get distracted. The project simply loses its momentum. You still want to finish, but the story seems suddenly unrealistic, daunting. Your brilliant idea begins to feel stale.

If you’re in this position, please remember that there are no wasted words. Before you abandon anything, the following strategies could be helpful:

Determine whether it’s worth it. Look at your work in a new way by trying the following exercise:

  • Set aside a small block of time to rewrite your opening lines or page. Do not look at your existing draft. Do it from memory. Is the essence still there?
  • If the answer is yes, it is the same story (possibly even a tighter version), then you MUST finish this project. It still lives and breathes inside you, and it is time to purge. If it feels like a completely new project, great! Maybe you haven’t finished because you haven’t found the work’s heartbeat yet. Look for lines that are most alive and follow them home.

Once you’ve determined a reason for forward trajectory, the best way to work through the low points, or return to that abandoned manuscript, is to set a series of small, attainable goals at all stages.

  • Set a routine, as low-maintenance as possible. Five minutes of writing or editing a day can do wonders.
  • Record the number of words you’ve written or edited, or the number of minutes you’ve written/edited. Add this up weekly and text the number to a friend for accountability.

Write down your overarching goal. This creative project is a mission, after all.

  • Fill in the following: “I am writing this story/poem/play because ___________________.”

However, you finish that sentence, put it next to your computer so you have to look at it every time you sit down. It’s as simple as this: if you can remember where you’re going, the path will emerge. And if you determined the work is worth abandoning, hey, you’ll have a lot of words to play with. Take the best sentences and move on. Either way, now you’re on a journey. With momentum to arrive at a final draft. You’ll get there. I know you will. I’m cheering you on.