Setting a Project Aside

Every writer I know has faced this decision. When is it time to put a project aside? Sometimes the project has become a long, hard uphill climb with no end in sight. Or maybe a new project popped up and demanded attention. So, when should we put a project aside?

I am about 46,000 words into a novel. I have the ending mapped out. I know where the story is going. I know more or less how my characters are going to get to the ending. I estimated another 30,000 words to wrap this thing up. Then I started writing a “short story” that is now over 15,000 words and is demanding a promotion from short story to novel. My goal was to complete the novel before NaNoWriMo. But that was before I made the decision to switch my focus to the new project.

What happened here is I lost my enthusiasm for the project because I was so excited about the new story. This new project demanded my attention. At other times,  I get bored with a project. I have to be careful of this because laziness sometimes feels an awful lot like boredom. Maybe there’s an issue with the plot or my characters that I need to fix. I’m being lazy about solving the problem, so I convince myself I’m bored with the project as an excuse to move on to something new and different. In other words, when the going gets tough, am I just looking for something else to do?

I have also put projects aside because it had become such a huge, hot, smelly mess. All those tangled plot threads, and I couldn’t hack my way out with a machete. These are the projects that look a lot better with a little time and space.

I never delete my work, even the stuff I have deemed irreversibly crappy. No matter how bad it seems, if I just let the project hibernate for a while and focus on something else, I can come back at a later time with renewed energy and fresh eyes. Sometimes I scrap most of it, while keeping the best bits for use somewhere else. More often, I am able to revise my way out of the word-jungle and I’m back on track.

For me, the decision to put a project aside can’t be made lightly. I fight an ongoing war against my own laziness, tendency to procrastinate, and chronic inability to finish things (I have ADD, which doesn’t help). I have to honestly evaluate why I want to set the project aside. And if I do, I have to write myself detailed notes about why I stopped working on the project. I also have to leave myself at least a partial outline of what I see happening for the rest of the story. To be completely honest, sometimes doing this work to put a project into hibernation revs up my enthusiasm for the project again.

Letting a project hibernate for a while can be very useful. The first draft of my recently completed novel sat on my computer for more than a year before I got back to it. During that time, I did some work on a number of other projects. When I returned to this novel, I was able to fix plot holes, strengthen my characters, and finish the story.

Before you set a project aside, consider why you want to do that. If you think the story is crap, give it to a trusted reader to get some feedback. If you’re bored, what do you want to do instead? If the project is a big hot mess, what do you have to do to fix it? If you have another project demanding attention, is that project worth setting aside considerable work?

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2 thoughts on “Setting a Project Aside

  1. Man, oh man. I have so been there. I started working on a memoir earlier this year, got about 30,000 words into it and then had to put it aside when the main character of the current novel I’m working on showed up in my head and demanded to be heard. Sometimes it just happens that way.

    And yes, I totally agree that sometimes when you put something into hibernation it is the exact right thing to do. When you come back to it you have renewed vigor.

    • I love demanding characters. Mine tend to be difficult to live with but never boring. I am not a morning person so while still half asleep (before coffee) I wonder what they are doing.

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