Think back to the last time you came into contact with a brand-new idea for the first time. Do you remember how it felt?
Maybe it was unexpected — you were just minding your own business when it wandered into your life. Maybe you were secretly hoping something would come along but had all but given up on the possibility — but you just kept holding on.
Regardless, chances are you were an absolute wreck — in a good way — when this new idea hit. You couldn’t think about anything else. It seemed the more you thought about it, the more the idea began to expand inside your head — almost as if the story was already writing itself with each passing second (and without you).
This is, by far, one of the most exciting states of being a writer — those moments you are so captivated by a new idea that you give it permission to completely consume you, even if only for a short time.
But something almost always happens far too soon after you and your new idea meet.
One minute you’re so into your new project that hours could go by and you wouldn’t even notice. And the next … well. The next, you suddenly want absolutely nothing to do with your new idea anymore. It doesn’t feel exciting anymore. It feels boring. You almost even dread the thought of “having” to pick it up again.
Unfortunately, being a human has plenty of downsides — one of them being that when the initial thrill of something wears off, our brains often stop providing the rush of endorphins that once accompanied even every thought of doing the thing that, seemingly three days ago, we were so excited about that we could barely sleep.
Once the novelty of your work wears off, you have two options: Continue on, even though you might not really “feel like it,” or give up.
Here’s why giving up is often so easy … and how to fight the urge to quit.
Every work-in-progress has a honeymoon phase
That’s what it’s typically called when you’re so in love with something new that everything feels FABULOUS. All you want to do is work on your new project. All you can think about when you’re not working on your new project is what you’re going to write next when you sit down to work on your new project.
I’d even dare to say it’s completely normal to get more than one terrible night’s sleep in a row because you just can’t get your mind off the story you’ve just started writing.
There is nothing wrong with feeling this excited about your work. It’s great!
As long as you know that all honeymoon phases do, eventually, wear off. And at that point, what are you left with? A great idea that actually requires A LOT of work if you want to keep it going.
That’s not easy. Work isn’t supposed to be easy. And that’s why so many writers quit — at the very least, face the temptation to quit — the moment their new project starts to feel like real, fairytale-free work.
Why do we quit when things get tough?
As soon as creators begin to experience any kind of resistance — the fun thing suddenly starts to “feel” like work — the temptation to just put it down and move on to the next new and shiny thing is often almost unbearable. Why?
The truth is, even the most experienced and accomplished writers still begin each new project hoping this one will somehow be “easier.” Logically, we know it isn’t going to be. Writing is work; it’s challenging even when you’re just doing it as a hobby to keep yourself busy. Creating original stories requires massive amounts of brainpower, among other things, which is why it’s common to feel exhausted after a long writing session.
Some of us have a harder time breaking through periods of this kind of resistance than others. There are many reasons for this, and “laziness” probably isn’t one of them — yes, there are plenty of instances where laziness could very well be your barrier to completion, but this almost always isn’t the case.
It’s much more likely that there is, psychologically, something stopping you mid-sentence when you realize how challenging it is going to be to continue writing your story. Maybe you’re suddenly afraid you won’t be able to write a good ending. Or you’re suddenly not as happy with your work as you were during the honeymoon phase.
Maybe you’ve been anxious about what to do “when it’s all over,” but you just didn’t realize it until now.
We quit when writing becomes challenging because avoiding obstacles is often our default setting. Even if writing is something you are massively passionate about, it can feel discouraging when you’re in the middle of doing it and realize even your favorite thing doesn’t come easily to you after all.
Here’s the good news: Even if you don’t think you’re capable of overcoming this “wearing-off” phase — and everything that comes along with it — you are. We all are. It just takes — you guessed it — some effort to keep climbing.
How to push through the struggle and finish what you started anyway
This is an extremely difficult thing to get through — I don’t think anyone should ever deny that. What’s most important, however, is constantly reminding yourself that you CAN keep going, and that losing interest isn’t always permanent.
- Always keep your “goal” and your “why” in mind. You should always have some kind of reminder to refer back to that tells you what you are trying to accomplish when you sit down to write. Maybe all you want to do for right now is finish the first draft of your novel — that’s a reasonable, tangible goal; you can do that. But it also helps to keep one eye on the bigger picture. WHY do you want to finish the first draft of your book? So you can clean it up, make it pretty, and maybe get it published? It’s possible to look ahead to the distant future while also keeping yourself focused on one small objective at a time.
- Take things slow … or take a break. If you’re one of those people who gets a new idea for a story, writes 10,000 words of it in 3 days, and then never looks at it again … well, I have some advice for you for another time. But when you start to feel totally burned out — you might already be there and not even know it — the most important thing you can do is give yourself permission to slow down. If you have to take a break for a bit, do it — but have a plan in place for coming back to it. A break isn’t going to ruin your chances of finishing what you started unless you let it.
- Want to know a secret? You can save the “hard stuff” for last! I do not write in chronological order because, yes, even I get bored. Eventually, you do have to fill in all the gaps, figure out how to make all the “in-betweens” feel exciting and well-paced. But if you’re losing interest in a story, there’s nothing wrong with skipping ahead to a part you’re excited to work on. It’s your project. You can get it done however you want, as long as you get it done.
Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. You can do this. Don’t give up yet!
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.