How to Gently Abandon Writing Projects (Plus 5 Questions to Ask Before You Move On)

How to Gently Abandon Writing Projects (Plus 5 Questions to Ask Before Moving On) from Nicole Gulotta

We all have them: discarded stories, poem fragments, first drafts of novels we haven’t looked at in years, recipes we never tested, old journals, and so on.

Starting projects we don’t finish comes with the territory of being a writer who changes her mind, grows, and embraces new life experiences, but the process of letting a project go isn’t always straightforward.

Before I made the decision to stop writing one food blog and start another one, I struggled for months before making a decision. During this interim period, I was confident I needed to do something new but unsure what the details might look like. My spirit was restless, confused, and hungry, a sentiment shared by others.

“There’s definitely a sadness that comes with abandoning a writing project, and the worry I’ll never finish anything. I just ignore that and keep plugging away,” notes writer Ishmael Green.

We’ve all stood at a crossroads in our writing journeys, wondering which way to turn. Do we walk Robert Frost’s less traveled path, or stay on the road we’re on until reaching a destination?   

The Three Stages of Writing Abandonment

1. A temporary pause

A temporary abandonment might be circumstantial, like you just had a baby, started a new job, or life’s just very full at the moment.

Or, it might be an intentional pause where you set something aside in order to think more about it, give it space, with the hope of returning to the page refreshed and full of new ideas.

For Karen Mendez Adrian, giving herself time and space is an integral component to her writing process. “Oftentimes, I abandon my project because I’m stumped, then I go back to it and proceed as if I’d never been stumped at all!”

2. Floating in liminal space

Liminal space is home to uncertainty, and is often a period of discomfort, waiting, and ultimately, transformation. It’s not usually a place we go willingly, but if you look back at your writing journey so far, you’ve likely experienced some level of liminality.

From the latin word limen, meaning “a threshold,” liminality can be a simultaneously disorientating and beautiful place to be.

Sometimes, project abandonment is relatively unintentional (like not sticking to your weekly blogging schedule or no longer writing morning pages), and you realize months later what’s been happening. Or, you’ve stopped writing due to circumstances outside your control, and don’t know when you’ll pick it back up again.

While there are moments of clarity, you might feel conflicted, unsure, and searching for insight faster than it’s willing to arrive. 

3. Moving on permanently

When you leave a project behind permanently, you’re convinced the purpose it served in your life is over. Maybe you no longer love the story, you’ve confidently moved on to something else, or you’ve completely changed course and left one writing topic for another.

This decision can be one of triumph and satisfaction (I finally discovered what I should be writing right now!) or dripping with melancholy for a time. Once time has passed, though, you’ll reflect on your decision and see it was the right one at the right time.

5 Questions to Ask Before You Abandon a Writing Project

@@In any stage of writing abandonment, here are a few questions to ask.@@  

First, consider your topic, your story, and the purpose this project is serving in your life. Next, take a deep breath, and see what comes.

1. Will I still be interested in this story or topic a year or two from now?

2. Does this give me a sense of joy, or am I doing it because I feel like I should?

3. Did I start out writing in one genre, but find something else more interesting right now?

4. Who am I writing for?

5. Do I need to finish this project in order to move on to the next one? 

How to Gently Abandon Writing Projects (Plus 5 Important Questions to Ask)

Something to keep in mind here, is your decision will be the right one. That should make you feel better instantly. It doesn’t remove the sadness associated with leaving a project behind, or remove obstacles in your schedule that keep you from writing. But at the very least, knowing you’re answering the call of your soul’s curiosity, as Elizabeth Gilbert likes to say, is always a step in the right direction.

Over to you. Share your stories of writing abandonment in the comments!