I spent the last month and a half of 2017 writing — and struggling to finish — the first, very rough draft of a novel.
The last few weeks, I had to give myself some breathing room. I loved the book. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that I could finish the story. I was invested so deeply in those characters that I knew quitting was not an option.
But something was off. I felt a small, barely noticeable tug at the back of my mind. There was a slight unsettled feeling in my chest.
My book was missing something. Even without fully finishing the first draft, I couldn’t shake off my awareness of that terrifying fact.
One of the worst — and best — things that can happen to you, as you’re writing a story, is realizing there’s a connecting piece, vital to your project’s success, that you have not discovered yet.
Unable to quit — yet unable to go on — I walked away from the story.
It hurt. I physically felt it. More than anything, though, I was afraid that in doing so, I would never be able to return to it again.
Another cold, lifeless, unfinished book buried deep in my hard drive.
I did not want to live with that guilt.
But I’d reached what I thought was the final turning point in my journey. The moment where I had to decide: would I continue to drag myself through this rough draft until I finished it, or leave it as-is and stumble off in a different direction, away from the story and characters I loved?
Nearly a month later, on my own time, reading a published book by an author much more successful than I’ll likely ever be (let’s be honest), it hit me.
That missing piece.
That connecting factor I couldn’t quite pull from the air.
I know exactly what I need to do to turn the unfinished product into a fully-formed book.
It’s going to take months of restructuring, rewrites, and many more tears. (It’s an emotional story. I can’t help it.)
And so I came upon yet another crossroads in my seemingly endless journey to finish this book.
I could put in the hours upon hours of effort to revive this thing and give it the life it deserves.
Or I could just abandon it. Call it quits. Accept that I have learned an important lesson about my creative process and move on.
I made my choice. I approached a second, unexpected turning point and chose to go on.
If you’ve never encountered a moment like this in your life as a writer, you will.
And you, too, will have to choose.
Do you keep going?
Or do you save yourself hours — days, weeks, months — of work, and just say, “I’m done”?
For many aspiring writers, whether or not they finish what could turn out to be a highly significant project near the start of their careers comes down to a single, seemingly straightforward choice.
Persist — or don’t.
Do — or do not.
Go all in — or bow fully out.
No one can make this choice for you. Though you don’t want to hear it — you want a straight answer; we all do — you know, deep down, the best path to take.
There is no right or wrong. Good or bad.
There is only The Best — the option that you can live with for the rest of your life.
Can you stand to go on? Could you accept walking away?
This is your story. Both the one you’re creating on paper, and the one you’re building with each day that passes.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.