When to quit...?!

How long is too long to spend on a piece of writing? What are the tell-tale signs that a WIP has outstayed it’s welcome?

I started work on my WIP eight years ago, and while I’m still enjoying it, the constant disruptions (the day job, eight NiaDs, two emigrations, etc) have dragged the whole thing out for an age! Is an idea I came up with eight years ago still likely to be my “highest value” idea to be working on? What are the chances that my writing style has stayed consistent over that period? And should I really be hoping for my style to have not improved over the best part of a decade?

Basically, I think I’m asking for “permission” to keep going.

What do you lot think? Any advice on when to walk away and when to stick at it? Anyone faced similar situations?

Read it through. Do you still like the story?

You might want to take a look at pulp writer Dean Wesley Smith’s blog. He’s a very firm believer that writing practice is writing new work. Re-writing isn’t. I tend to go along with that, but as always, writing is solitary work, so what works for you is what works for you.

In other words, you do what you must.

How about a left-field idea. Think up the plot etc. for NiaD 2019, but rather than giving that to the troops, set about writing it yourself, and reduce your old project to a NiaD plot and let others write different versions for you? You can always use some of your chapters to fill in if you don’t have the requisite number of contributors to provide all the chapters for each of the books.

What about it? :slight_smile:

Mr X

Yup, but I’ve also lost all perspective on it. Is it good, or is it just familiar?!

I’m a long way from the re-writing stage. I’ve written 24 and a half chapters and I reckon that’s about 2/3 the way through.

It’s a neat idea, but I’m not sure this one would work as a NiaD. I’m pretty sure NiaD is done now, anyway!

Since you asked…
I recently buried a project since I couldn’t imagine finishing it. It used to be a screenplay and I tried everything I could to transform it into a novel. It didn’t work. In the end, I got bored with it.
Which is the best motivation I know to scrap something.

You said the important part in this sentence. You’re still enjoying it.

Those are all considerations for when the first draft is done and has been sitting for a bit while you go off and work (or not) on something else. They are NOTHING you need to be thinking about right now. If you’re 2/3 done with your WIP and you still enjoy adding words, then you’re doing the right thing for you and there is no reason why you should stop.

Basically, you need to stop when you no longer feel like you’re being productive. First draft is the time for process, not results.

If it’s a first draft, then I’d blast through to the end, writing in some form of shorthand. (I presume you know your ending by now, and you’re writing towards it.)

For me, consistency comes from the second draft (rewrite), which I do via each POV – if you have only one POV, then this should be easy enough, unless your character has multiple personalities :slight_smile:

My go-to book for writing dilemmas is Stephen Koch’s, Writer’s Workshop. (It’s the only pragmatic book on finishing I’ve read.) It might be worth reading the chapter, Working and Reworking; especially the section, Fast Drafts and Slow Drafts.

(Aside: I don’t regard this as a “beginner’s” book. It’s for someone who’s written ~60,000 words or more, sits back scratching their head and asks themselves: what am I doing?)

It was actually after I got Scrivener and started tinkering with it that I dragged an old WIP of my own out of the filing cabinet and began working with it. Getting excited about it because Scrivener does what it does so well. My WIP was stuffed into an untidy loose-leaf binder, now it’s being gradually migrated into a Scrivener project. “Gradually” because life is always getting in the way, but nothing we can do about that. :mrgreen:

Everyone’s mileage will vary but I say if you still love your story, keep at it!

Yes! I heartily second this book, whose full title is The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction.

Yes! You may keep going.


I started my WIP in 1972 (I have the notes to prove it - now in Scrivener). My first draft - which I finished on my 72nd birthday, last year, is 80k words. I’m about a third of the way through my second draft, and I’m sure I will need a third draft, and maybe more.
So check in with me in with me in 39 years and I’ll give you my opinion on whether your should keep going. :wink:


I’m actually wrestling with this now…I have a WiP that’s been about 80% done for several years now…I know what I have to do to finish it ( At least I think I do.) but it keeps getting put off and off.

I have to wonder now if it just needs to be thought of as great practice for the next bunch of writing and left to rot in that great writer’s field of past projects.

Advice I got from an author friend: always try to finish a draft. Even if it’s not a good draft, the habit and mindset of “first finish the draft, THEN decide whether it’s worth continuing” is better practice for the future.

I guess I doubt there is any strong correlation between time-to-draft and quality or promise. Your book project is long in the tooth, not probably because of anything about it, but rather because living is a full time job, and you no doubt have a full time job on top of that.

I don’t suppose I can add anything to the wise advice already given by others, but I would note this for what it is worth:

There is an ounce of wisdom in Mr. X’s playful suggestion that you NIAD it. It is not the farming-out part, which of course you are not going to do, but it does suggest thinking about your task in a certain way differently than you probably do.

Why does NIAD work? Because you can write a decent chapter (draft) in a single day, and because the necessary commitment is both short and definite and there is a hard deadline for finishing. (It also helps, of course, that there is an engaged group of people doing it too.)

If you don’t believe me, just ask those NIAD chapter authors whose excitment at their result has something to do with the fact that they accomplished in one day more than they have done in their own novel projects in however long.

So, if you want to jumpstart your progress on the remaining 1/3, I believe there is something that can be productively borrowed from the NIAD process and put to work in one’s own work.


Well, it’s great advice…Obviously, I know I should finish it…But thinking that the resistance to doing so is the unverese telling me something.

The BEST best thing to do would be to give myself a deadline of 60 days to s*** or get off the pot…Finish it or scuttle it forever…and reward myself for finishing it…

I can only speak for myself, but when I feel resistance to writing something, it’s one of two things:

  1. I don’t know what I want to write about clearly enough yet. I’m a weird hybrid between pantser and plotter, so I have to have some stuff figured out and then I can sit down and go and the rest works itself out. But if I haven’t done that skull work to figure out the deep structure, eventually I bring myself to a halt.

  2. I am suffering from perfectionism. I’ve picked up on flaws in what I’ve already written and I want to go fix them because I’m not sure how I’m going to save the work. I am still working on retraining myself that revision time comes AFTER the draft. Every draft is going to be broken, the goal is to reduce the breakage as an overall trend. Yes, this means potentially more rewrites. But it potentially means LESS work overall because I’ll have the whole draft to look over and figure out how to fix it, possibly saving myself time and energy vs. endless perpetual partial rewrites.

After this long what you should do is . . . print it out.

All 500 pages? Yes, indeed. When you read through that monstrous stack on your desk picking up one piece of paper after another it wildly changes your view.


no, i don,t think you are.

i,ve seen this before quite a few times. this is you asking for permission to quit.

sorry. permission denied.

starting stories is easy. finishing them is hard and doing it well takes practice. i don,t care if the story is rubbish. finish the first draft at least. just do it quickly.

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I saw this today: societyofauthors.org/Prizes/Soc … rial-Prize and thought of Rog for some reason.

Imagine if they added the constraint: … and under 80; that would pile on the pressure.

I’ve got a way to go before I’m eligible for that one, unless you think it’ll be a couple of decades before I publish anything.

Okay, fair enough.