Recently I had to abandon a novel manuscript that I’ve been plugging away at for the past three and a half years. It went through six rough draft attempts, various points of view, several different levels of outlining, added/subtracted characters, NaNoWriMo, and beta readers. But after all of that I never made it past chapter 11… While I hate the idea of discarding any story, my creativity had been bled dry on that particular manuscript, and I knew it was time to move on. So, I went on to a new story idea with more experience and several new lessons under my belt. Let me tell you what I learned.
Having a Plan of Action is Key
Not everyone likes outlining, but before you start writing you should have at least some sort of plan for what you want to accomplish with the story. Even if it is the very ending scene or just a general lesson you want the book to teach, you should know what you are working towards so that you aren’t just mindlessly writing.
Stepping Back Isn’t the Right Answer
I got writer’s block at least once every week I worked on this manuscript, and I learned, not so quickly, that the worst thing you can do for writer’s block is step back. Read this post for a more in depth discussion on how I think writer’s block should be dealt with:
Sometimes Enough is Enough
Now, don’t get me wrong. You shouldn’t give up on your story as soon as it gets difficult. Some of my best stories have been the hardest for me to write. It’s just a matter of knowing when your productivity for a certain story has halted. Even if sweat is dripping off of your fingertips as you painfully write out word after word, you are still progressing with your story and you should stick with it. It’s when you’re sweating, but find yourself still working on the same chapter after a year that you should reevaluate your priorities.
Discarding Doesn’t Have To Be Forever
As a final note, I just want you to understand that I am not saying you should discard something you are having trouble with and never look back. I don’t think any writing should be completely trashed. What I’m saying is that it is better sometimes to leave a piece of writing behind if it is hindering your productivity. While doing this you should also know that if you feel the need to, you can return to it when your writing is better suited for that particular project at some point in the future.
Writing is just like playing with a deck of cards. Sometimes things go in the discard pile, but later in the game they might find their way back into your hand. Who knows? It might eventually end up being your winning card!