Monday, June 6, 2016

When to Call It Quits on a Manuscript

My writing time is at a premium these days. Between a very active almost-two-year-old (how did that  happen??), a demanding freelance workload, and a baby on the way who's sucking much of my energy, I'm lucky if I get to write a few hundred words a week.

So I can tell you, making the decision to scrap my current manuscript-in-progress isn't one I'm taking lightly. I have around 35,000 words written, about half my target word count goal.
Many writers have trunked novels. Often these are first efforts, the manuscripts where they were still learning the craft. I have several of these myself, but this one feels different. I don't think there's much technically wrong with this one (other than the usual first draft problems!). It's in a genre that isn't overdone. In fact, it's one that is getting some attention from agents recently.

What's the problem with mine, then? Well, actually, I have three main issues. These might apply to others too, so I decided to list them out for anyone else who might be going through the same thing.

1. Every word is a struggle.
Writing is hard. Everyone who's ever finished (or tried to finish) a story or a novel knows that. There are always going to be days when you have to force yourself to put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. But there should also be times when the words are flowing and things are working. Unlike previous manuscripts, that just isn't happening on this one. I'm not getting the magical flashes of insight into characters and plot that normally come as part of my drafting process—instead, I'm having to agonize over all those details separately, which takes up even more of my limited writing time.

2. Putting it aside for a while didn't work.
Setting a draft that's giving you trouble aside and coming back to it later is often the best way to get over a writing slump and come back to your work with fresh eyes. (Just ask anyone who's ever finished NaNoWriMo.) I tried that with this novel, and it was a total failure. Months and months later, I still had the exact same issues when I tried to jump back into it.

3. I'm just not in love anymore.
This is the biggest factor. The passion I felt for this manuscript at the beginning has faded, to the point where I'm starting to actively dislike it. Maybe I could grit my teeth and power through the first draft, but the thought of spending months more revising and polishing makes me feel a bit ill.

I'm willing to admit that a big part of these issues might be a reflection of changes going on in my life. This concept is dark and twisted, while I'm finding myself gravitating more and more toward fun, adventurous, lighthearted books these days.

So I'm giving myself permission to quit writing this manuscript. Maybe I'll come back to it later, and maybe I won't. Either way, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders—and that's how I know I'm making the right decision.


  1. I hear you - especially regarding the genre shift. I was never really dark (ie not a fan of horror like Stephen King), but I did love Anne Rice and EA Poe. After kids, I can't say I hate Poe, but I think is writing is creepy now. It is amazing how kids can change you.

  2. Great post! Although I've only written a few paragraphs on several WIPs and have nothing close to a manuscript yet, I thank you for letting me know its okay to stop working on it when the love is gone.