When to shelve your manuscript (and when to just take a break)

Does anyone else find it almost impossible to DNF a book?

What about you, writers, how hard is it to abandon a manuscript you’ve worked on for a long time, but know will never be ready for publishing? Or even, that you’ve simply fallen out of love with?

There’s this concept called the sunk cost fallacy, and I think a lot of us can identify with it. In a nutshell, it means you refuse to give up on something, even when it’s terrible or has come to its natural end, because you think the time and energy you put into it so far will have been wasted if you quit.

It’s used a lot to explain why people stay in relationships and jobs that no longer serve them or make them happy. But it also applies to your creative projects and WIPs.

So, how do you decide when it’s time to abandon your current novel and start working on something new?

Should you shelve your current WIP?

There are a few questions you could ask yourself to determine if it’s time to move on from that book you’ve been writing for years, or that hasn’t gotten any requests from agents or publishers:

  • Are you hoping to publish it one day, or are you just writing it for fun? (There’s nothing wrong with writing something you’re passionate about but have no intention of sharing, it’s good to have a comfort WIP you can turn to when you need a break)
  • Does it fit into a recognisable genre and have clear comparative titles?
  • Is the genre you’re writing in selling/popular right now? (If not, it doesn’t automatically mean you should abandon your WIP, trends come back around and it could be the next big thing!)
  • Have you had beta readers and editors look at it, and did they enjoy it?
  • Do you feel as though there’s still work to be done, revisions and edits that will make your story better? (If you feel like you’ve done everything you can and the story still isn’t working, it might be time to shelve the MS)
  • Do you enjoy working on your story? Do you fall asleep thinking about it and daydream your way through the work day, jotting down snippets of dialogue and ideas for plot twists? (Then it’s probably not quite time to abandon your story! Another round of betas might help you get closer to being publication ready)
  • Is there another idea or plot bunny that’s been nagging at your brain? (You’re not alone, we all get shiny new ideas, but if you give up on your current WIP every time you get a new plot bunny you’ll never finish a book, so make all the notes you want, and then get back to your WIP!)

We all hit road bumps in our writing journeys, and some days getting the words down is like pulling teeth, because writing is hard. It is hard. But we’re all in this together, even when writing feels lonely, there’s a whole community of us out here who you can reach out to for support and encouragement.

And even if you shelve an MS, that doesn’t mean you can’t take it back out months or even years later, dust it off, and get it ready for the world to read. We need your stories!

Lyndsey

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2 Comments

  1. This is interesting, because I routinely feel like shelving my manuscript, lol. But I push on, because that’s the learning journey for me. Besides, that makes me more thankful for the good days. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t consider shelving my last WIP because I was too passionate about the story and I feel it’s very timely. I just started querying, so I guess I’ll see how it goes! I did, however, shelve the WIP before it, and it made such a difference when I returned to it. Great questions and suggestions!

    Liked by 1 person

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