When to Walk Away

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-5-34-45-pmIn the years since I started writing seriously, a couple things come up over and over and over:

The writer who is desperate to be published, but has been working on the same project for somewhere between 3-10 years… I want to tell most of these people that their first project will probably never see the light of day without a re-write.

The other thing I hear a lot is – My book is giving me fits! I’m having the worst time getting through it. When do I give up and walk away?

I have some of my own thoughts on these two situations, but I did ask for some help from a few author friends and here’s what they had to say:

REBECCA TALLEY: When I feel like vomiting if I have to read it one more time, I’m done.

CINDY WHITNEY: My first book- I came to a point where I knew I had to decide between putting it away of rewriting it. I’d had a professional edit on it, and finally understood it was not ready to be published. But I loved the characters too much to shelve them, so I rewrote the whole story (over 85K words), and I’m so glad I did (published it in January).



JANET JOHNSON: The first book I wrote was perfect (of course). Except it wasn’t. And when I knew it needed something, but I didn’t know how to fix it, I walked away. Several years later I came back to it and wow it was terrible! But the characters jumped off the page. I wanted to spend time with them. So that’s when I ripped it apart and rewrote the whole thing. I signed an agent with that book, and it was published last April. I guess the point of what I’m saying is that you need to have a connection to it that compels you forward. Of course I hated the manuscript at times (many, many, many times), but I loved working with those characters, and it kept me going.

(Jo included this cover b/c it was one of my favs this year)



1. You don’t care about you characters/story anymore

2. You care so much that it gets in the way of things that matter more (obsessive thinking, inability to think about other projects and responsibilities.)

Otherwise I think you stick with it.

Walking away, to me, means you shelf it, put it out of your brain for 6 months to a year or more.

If you care about it and are stuck, then I think you push through. Pushing through can look a lot of different ways. You can work on a different WIP for a few days and give your brain a rest, or take a weekend off, or talk through it with a friend- it’s still on your radar and on the list of things you’re working on now.

That being said, if your WIP is finished, then comes the question, how mush do you revise? How do you know when it’s perfect. And they answer there is, you don’t. Polished isn’t perfect. But that’s another blog post. Lol.

TAMMY THERIAULT – One of my ideas I loved. Then I told it to someone and they said it would mirror a book series already out there. Being too close to another’s idea is no bueno. Even though my idea was off in some regards, the idea was running to close to the other. I once wrote a YA. Completed the novel and shelved it for GOOD. It ruined me. Although it wasn’t a complicated story, I knew I could do better. My beta notes weren’t bad but I felt it wasn’t…me. I tried a different category and the flow was fluid. I wasn’t trying to sound like I could write a Shakespearean line anymore. I was just writing for the enjoyment of writing again. And my betas ended up loving it. It was about finding a voice that suited me. 


  1. If you have put a novel on one round of submitting to agents, re-worked, and then another round of agents, without an offer of representation. SHELVE IT. Now, you may pull that book out later, but if I were you? I’d wait years.
  2. If you know your idea is a fab high concept, and you’re having a hard time getting through that first draft? Just keep pausing, learning more craft ideas, and pushing through.
  3. When you know something isn’t quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it (sometimes even agents aren’t really sure), that’s when you need to set the MS aside.
  4. When you know you’re not quite good enough to do your story justice, set it aside. THIS IS OKAY. When you’ve honed your skills, you’ll be able to tell that story the way it should be told.
  5. I have shelved about 6 projects. I think I wasn’t quite good enough to tell those stories the way I want. Or those characters maybe have a different story to tell. Until I KNOW how to fix/tweak/change my story, they’ll sit and wait. And in 5 years, they’ll still be right where I left them (Yanno, b/c I’m good at backing up my stuff 😉

If you have anything to add to this conversation, as always, I’d love to hear it.

Happy Writing!


One thought on “When to Walk Away

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