When I used to write a blog post every week, it was easy – I sat down on Thursday lunchtime and typed out 500 words. Then on Friday lunchtime, I went through, edited it and posted it. But now that I only post every couple of months, the whole process has become unaccountably difficult.
Let me elaborate. As it’s my 44th birthday today, I thought I would write a post all about getting older and how it's affected my writing. And I did – there’s 900 words of it in a separate Word file. But the more I wrote that post, the more I didn’t want to write it – it was moany and self-pitying and frankly a bit dull. Even so, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been slogging through it, adding a few words every day but never getting it into a shape where I’d want to actually show it to anyone.
So, with only a couple of days left before this post goes live, I did one of the most frightening and powerful things a creative person can do.
I started again.
Deciding when it’s time to drop a project is something that all writers face. And it can happen at all points of the process: that “brilliant” idea you had last night that doesn’t look so hot in the light of morning, or that point a third of the way into a manuscript where you realise you hate your protagonist, or that day you receive a form rejection from the very last agent on your list.
We’re told repeatedly to “never give up,” that successful writers are the ones who hang in there. But that doesn’t have to mean hanging in there with the same project. I emphasised “have” in that last sentence because I know writers who have found success with projects that they’ve nurtured for many years, constantly taking feedback, honing and rewriting until their manuscript finally landed on the right desk at the right time. And that success sometimes makes me wonder about all those manuscripts in my bottom drawer, though I’ve yet to pluck up the courage to unearth them.
There is great liberation in chucking away your work and starting something new. All that creative baggage swept away in an instant, replaced with the blank page. Suddenly, you are in a world of infinite possibilities, unconstrained by the rules of the world you’d conjured before. Suddenly, you are free.
We all know people who constantly start projects and never finish them. Those people who talk more about what they’ll write than actually write the thing. Because writing is hard and talk is cheap! If everyone really does have a novel in them, then it’s a grammatically suspect one that ends midway through chapter five.
How, then, to steer a path between the two extremes? How to finish (and revise) the projects that really matter, but to walk away from the less-rewarding stuff without feeling guilty? Here’s a flowchart I’ve designed to help you make an informed decision:
Nick Cross is a children's writer, Undiscovered Voices winner and Alphabet Soup maker for SCBWI Words & Pictures Magazine.
Nick's writing appears in Stew Magazine, and received a 2015 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.