Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Is there a time to set your current novel aside, leave it unfinished, and move on to the next?
Normally I’d say, “Finish what you start” and,” You never know what you have until you’ve finished.” But there are times when moving on, for the time-being, or forever, is worth considering.
There is the question of the shiny new project, the amount of time you have spent on a project, and what lights you up, that should all factor into your decision.
The Shiny New
A quick refresher on what the shiny new is. It is the fresh new exciting story idea that pops up usually about the time you’ve reached the middle of your current story. This new idea distracts you.
You look at your current story and see nothing but flaws: it is boring, it isn’t marketable, it isn’t going to be the one to get you to your writing goal, not like this new one. The new one is what will get you an agent, or the book deal, or is the one that will grow your readership and sales.
Maybe the new story is the one. Maybe it isn’t.
There are a lot of reasons why the shiny new appears. In my course, The Daring Writer, we delve into those seasons, their implications, and how to deal with it.
One of the most practical reasons your shiny new pops up, is your boredom or dissatisfaction with your current story. By that, I mean, the actual writing.
Before you decide to ditch the current story for the new one, take a serious look at the current story. If you’re stuck, or bored, or dissatisfied with it, see if there is a way to fix the problems you’re having.
To help you, I have a free guide on what to do when you’re stuck, which you can dive into here.
It may take time to fix the current work and that’s okay. If the problems you are having can’t be fixed, or you don’t feel it is worth it, then. maybe it is time to move on.
In fact, the amount of time you have spent on a story is the next thing to be taken into consideration.
How long is too long?
There used to be a saying: “You have ten years to write the first book, and one year to write the next.”
Now, having a year to write a book seems like a luxury, given the speed of marketing and consumerism.
But what about the ten years? Should you really spend ten years on one story?
If you have been fairly steadily writing, re-writing, editing, and re-editing, and starting over, on the same story, for ten years? It is probably time to move on.
Our stories are our babies. We get attached to them, and it can be really difficult to let them go. Sometimes, though, we have to.
This one is fully dependent on you. Take some time to think objectively about your story. Are you realistically able to make the story that much better with another round of edits?
Sometimes we think we are making the story better, but the feedback we receive points out the same problems as before. We think that if we can just get this one story right, then we’ll reach our goals.
The problem is that often this kind of time and effort smothers our growth as writers, and hinders our progress.
If you have spent more than three years on a novel without any significant progress, it is time to move on. You can put the manuscript as it is, into submission, or self-publish it if you’d like. A drawer, or archived file on your computer, is just as fine a place for it.
Take what you learned writing that story. Add to that knowledge all that you continue to learn about the craft. And start a new story.
You may find yourself going back to that earlier novel at some point, and you might not. What you will find, is that the next novel will be leaps and bounds better than you ever imagined.
Which brings us to the last thing to consider, which is the question of what lights you up?
Do I care?
If you have spent a few years on your novel and it holds a special place in your heart, but you find yourself avoiding it. You’re working on a new story and you’ve looked at all the ways to fix it to make the writing better, but you’re not sure it is worth it.
A simple question to ask yourself: Do you care?
Do you still care about the characters? The theme?
When people ask you what you write, and you tell them about what you’re working on, what is your level of excitement? Does it make you smile? Do you wish you were writing something else?
Spending any amount of time on a novel, from six months to, yes, even ten years, is a long time. It ought to light you up.
Yes, a shiny new idea is going to be so much more exciting. Set that new idea aside. Think about the one you are working on now. Take some time to evaluate it, and your true thoughts and feelings about it.
If you find it difficult to fill out, if you find those answers just aren’t there, then maybe it is time to move one.
Still not sure?
Try it. Set aside the novel you’re working on. Write something new. See how it feels.
I’m a firm believer in finishing your novel before you make any major decisions about it. Sometimes, though, to keep on writing, to grow as a writer, we need to move on. And most of all, we need to love the story we tell.
Don’t forget to get your guides on what to do when stuck, and to help you clarify why you are writing this story, and how you truly feel about it.
Until next time . . . Happy Writing!