If you’ve ever had a friend date someone who is obviously wrong for them, you know the last thing they need to do is put a ring on it. You can see it. People who spend just five minutes with that couple can see it. The only person who can’t see it, is usually the friend in the relationship.
For some writers, there are stories they shouldn’t try to live with, and they’re often equally blind to it. The signs are there of course.
1. There’s no end in sight. You’ve been writing that story for three years, maybe longer. That can happen and still work, but in most cases, that story is just holding you back. Seriously. If you plan to be a professional writer, you need more than one story in you. That once brilliant idea for a book is just keeping you from writing other stories. Kick that unproductive jerk to the curb.
2. The magic is gone. Oh, those first few chapters were filled with excitement and discovery. Sitting down to write was like channeling William Shakespeare through your fingertips. Now, opening that Word document is more like being handcuffed in bed to a naked Chris Christie after he’s indulged in an all-you-can-eat Mexican buffet. Maybe you can recapture the magic by going back and finding where it went off the rails. Maybe you can rework that chapter where it lost your interest and fix it. Perhaps you just need to restart the story in a different place, but if you reach the horrifying conclusion that your brilliant book was always a refried bean-eating New Jersey governor, it’s time to run. Better yet, hop in the fastest car you can find and hightail it out of there before he shuts down the George Washington Bridge.
3. You’re having an affair. This isn’t all that different from number two. You used to be all excited for that first story, but suddenly, you find there’s another story that seems so much more interesting to you. While you’ve had that first manuscript closed (and maybe even while it’s sitting open on your desktop, you cad!), you’ve been writing chapters for an entirely different book. Don’t be that writer! Commit to the story you’re most interested in and finish it. While there are writers who can get away with writing more than one book at a time, most can’t. Commit to one; get it done. If that other story is meant to be, you’ll find your way back to it when the other is finished.
4. You’re chasing a trend. Most agents will tell you not to chase the trends because what’s hot on the shelves is usually more than a year old in the publishing world and passé. You need to write what you’re passionate about. Just be warned, that even though you’ve found the story you really want to write, it doesn’t mean anyone will believe there’s an audience eager to buy and read it. So this isn’t always solid advice to get published, but it’s good advice for finding a story you’ll finish. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky. You’ll find a trend you’re also passionate about and get the story done in time to capitalize on public interest. The sign you need to file away that story and find another is when you realize the only reason you’re writing it is to take advantage of a trend. A professional writer recognizes they’re part of a business, but it’s a business that requires an equal part of passion to go with their professionalism.
5. Maybe you just need to take a break. Sure it didn’t work out so well for Ross and Rachel on Friends, but you can run into a lot of reasons to put that manuscript on pause. Perhaps you’ve reached a point in the story where you’re not sure what needs to happen next. Maybe you realize you’ve come up short on your research. That’s fine. Step away for a bit and do what you need to do, then come back and finish the story. That’s not an excuse to stop working.
This past April, I broke one of my fingers. As much as I tried, I couldn’t write my current WIP and was out of action for almost four weeks. My speed wasn’t there. Once I accepted that, I moved onto other things I could do. Graphic artwork for a new blog (the one you’re now reading)? Yeah, I could do that. Improve my social media presence? Got it. Type out a blog post? Took a very long time, but I managed it. Typing the blog posts also helped rehabilitate my finger. My point is that just because you aren’t working on that story, you better be working on something else. If it’s just to let the story sit and ruminate, that’s great. Go write a short story or work on something else entirely different to keep your creative muscles in shape. That novel you started and promise you’ll get back to one day but all you’re doing is sitting on your butt… Sorry, that’s bull. I say that as someone who’s been guilty of it. You’re either a working writer, or you’re not a writer at all. Choose which one you are, and embrace it.
These aren’t all the reasons you might need to call it quits on a book you’re writing, but they’re some pretty common warning signs. Got a few of your own? Share them in the comments.
Next week, I look at the other side of this issue, the argument for sticking with that story and seeing it all the way to the end. That’s right. I’m going to discuss the biggest warning sign that the problem isn’t the story or stories you’re writing. Nope, the problem is you.