You did it! You finished a draft. Then, another draft. And fifteen revisions later, your piece still feels unfinished or it’s not getting the right reception. You could re-work the manuscript. Again. It’s tempting, I know — I spent three years editing and revising a small poetry collection, after all. How many hours did I spent removing commas to only replace them? How many vanilla lattes did I drink while doing so? How many great ideas packed their bags while I was consumed with this one project? Who knows.
It’s tempting to endure. In fact, we’re told to endure through writing to reach that breakthrough. But there’s a point where all that editing and revising becomes stagnating. That’s the most difficult part for me about writing: every poem and story are perpetually in revision to me. But sometimes the best thing we can do is to put a dust jacket on our projects and start again (maybe even put them in an idea notebook/binder, as suggested in another one of our posts, For Writers with Too Many Ideas and Not Enough Time). Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to move on:
Quantity > Quality.
Yes, that greater than sign is facing the right direction. Hear me out: adopting a quantity-over-quality mindset as a writer is beneficial as quantity allows room for experimentation. You can spend ten years writing the perfect novel and hope it catches the attention of the right person or you can play around with some other ones and learn from those mistakes. Writing is a craft that benefits from repetition.
It’ll get easier.
Following the first note, the process itself gets easier over time. You learn how to plot, pace, create dialogue, conflict, and find your own voice with each new piece you write – all things which are easier with repetition.
Limit attachments to your work.
The writing process is nothing like giving birth. Your relationship with your draft is not a romance. It’s easy to develop an emotional attachment to something that occupies so much of your time but this is not productive. Complete your thought and move on to another project.
Starting over isn’t a waste of time.
Leaving your project behind isn’t a waste of your time: it’s necessary sometimes. Every sentence you write makes each subsequent sentence better; therefore, no sentence you write is ever wasted.
Have you ever left a project behind? How did you make that decision?