Can You Go Back to a Book You Never Finished Writing?


Yesterday, I spent most of my day reading an unfinished book series I’d almost forgotten I’d started.

This was years ago — enough of them have passed that I’d completely forgotten I’d started writing a sequel to the unfinished first book and NEVER FINISHED THAT ONE EITHER.

Now, I’m not saying that this mess of a draft was “good.” But I was so intrigued by this forgotten story that I felt my heart break a little when I went to scroll to the next page and THERE WASN’T ONE BECAUSE I STOPPED WRITING IT.

I spent enough time with these characters that, if I could, I would go back and finish the trilogy I had set out to complete, even just for my own satisfaction.

There are many reasons I can never go back to it, though — no matter how much I desperately want to.

Reason 1: I’ve grown. Not just as a writer, but as a person. At the time of writing, I needed to tell this story, to help myself cope with some things going on in my life. I no longer need to cope with those things, and in many ways, major plot points feel as though I have outgrown them. And honestly, I’d really rather not relive a lot of that pain if I don’t have to.

Reason 2: I have a lot of things to write that are new and, let’s be honest, much more important. Yes, I could spend the next year of my life working only on these books until they were finished. But then I’d be abandoning everything I’m currently working on, and I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest.

Reason 3: There comes a time when you have to let go of the projects that helped you along your journey as a writer. You have to accept them as part of what was, and leave them as part of your history to make room for the things you need now to grow from where you’re at. You can’t keep going back to your first loves. You can do better. You must.

There is something special about the writing projects that made us who we are. We stick with stories in the long-term because we love them, care for them, enjoy them, and want others to experience them someday. But the reality is, we can’t finish everything we start. Life happens. Our interests change.

Going back to those old flames is like rereading our favorite books over and over again … only our favorite books, and nothing else. It’s tempting, but it’s not going to be a good use of our time.

Remember: everything we write leaves a mark on us somehow. There’s no law that says I can’t use trace elements of these unfinished books in future projects to, even if only for myself, keep them alive.

Plus, apparently I had it in my head who the villain in this series was all along, and as I was reading, I COULD NOT REMEMBER WHO IT WAS.


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.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

13 thoughts on “Can You Go Back to a Book You Never Finished Writing?

  1. I know what you mean, I had a few of those moments but I’m my opinion it’s probably best for some content because it gives us writers a second chance to over view the weaknesses we didn’t notice before. Plus we are wiser as time passes so we can add on to those old ideas. So you can see the major advantages of that. However, the major draw back I feel would come from the potential for tainted tone of the story.

    Cause there’s always a chance of losing what ever we felt we were trying to express during that first run at it. And I mean for good, great piece cause I don’t see to many writers talk about these sort of things.

    But I suppose that has more to do with insecurities of the creative process. 😁👍

    1. This comment feels like you reached into my brain and picked out my exact thoughts haha. I am actually still struggling with this days later. We become very attached to our characters and sometimes we simply cannot ignore that itch to finish their stories or give them “the endings they deserve.” My conclusion is, it’s OK to return to old things, but recognize if and when it ever starts holding you back. Some stories you grow beyond. That does not mean there aren’t some you can return to and finish on your own time. It really depends, I suppose.

  2. Genuinely I’ve had this problem for as long as I could read. Sometimes I go back to a book and I really enjoy it, then sometimes I just have to give up. However, when I give a book a second chance and love it, I always feel good.

  3. I have a few stories which I know I want to go back and finish. Some are half way finished and another is a few chapters away from the end. But I know I’ll have to rewrite them completely when I do. And that stops me doing it. It’s an annoying cycle.

      1. I was thinking of using NaNoWriMo as a reason to redo one my unfinished stories. I’d get a good chunk of it done at least to get me going.

      2. I think I will! And I’ll be a few days behind. I’m on holiday so won’t be able to start until 4th November. Even more of a challenge. Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

      3. I’ve been saying for awhile that last year was my “last” year. I’m kind of second-guessing this decision, but honestly, I don’t know if I can make it happen. But there’s still time to decide…:P

  4. yes, we need to have juice for our writing projects or else we can’t sustain the telling of a long long story. i’ve started a couple of long book projects this year and have given one up and am struggling with the other. as you say, sometimes we don’t want to revisit the pain that the story may bring up. i’m rereading some books in my genre to help decide how to proceed.

    1. Having a lot of stories in your head, and seemingly never enough time/energy to write them all, is the most frustrating struggle. I am with you. And here for you. Ugh.

  5. “We can’t finish everything we start” – it’s such a great relief :) Thank you for sharing such great content and I’d be very happy if you visit my site one day and give me feedback on it :)

Compose your words of wisdom

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s