A Writer’s Dilemma: When to Let Go

The fantasy writer Terry Pratchett has been quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” I understand this (beyond the unfair slam to California) because writer’s block is a great excuse for someone who wants to write but doesn’t want to write THAT much.



I don’t know if my problem is writer’s block, but I recently gave up on a novel. Not permanently, but I set it aside for now in favor of another story which also needs working on. I’ve never done that before. I usually find that when I hit a snag in a story, I just think about it until I get over the hump and then it’s smooth sailing. Also, I hate, hate, hate to give up on a project. However, I’ve been thinking of how to end the story for about two years now, without any suitable solution. For those of you who read my optimistic post at the beginning of November, that’s the one I’m talking about. I made a lot of progress and got a lot of good ideas, but I still can’t finish it. I just went and read a bunch of quotes about writer’s block by famous authors and all of them said basically the same thing: suck it up and get writing, and I totally agree. But…

But here’s my question: when is it time to put something aside and when is it time to keep hammering your head against the craggy face of the story, hoping for a breakthrough? I’m not whining or complaining or even trying to justify myself, I’m genuinely wondering. I feel like a failure for giving up (even temporarily) but now that I’m working on the other novel, I’m much more excited about writing it. I look forward to going back at it.

I’m sure any professional writer would read this and scoff; I probably would too in their place. I have the freedom as an amateur writer of not being under contract and under a deadline. But also, being an amateur writer, I feel I have the freedom at the moment to pick and choose which projects to do, even if I am aspiring to be professional eventually.

What do you think? Please be as brutally honest as you’d like. Do you think it is acceptable for a serious writer to put aside a piece because of not being able to make progress with it, or should you always power through any difficulties? What are your experiences in this area?

About David Stewart

I am a writer of anything quirky and weird. I love most genres of fiction and in each there are stories that I would consider "my kind of story". View all posts by David Stewart

17 responses to “A Writer’s Dilemma: When to Let Go

  • sustainabilitea

    Of course it’s acceptable. You are your own writer and if your time can more profitably (not necessarily monetarily) spent on some other writing project, go for it. Use the time. The time away may stimulate your ideas and I’m sure you’ll eventually be back with the project with a fresh outlook. Writers and projects can get stale like to much else and time away is a good thing. You’re still going to be busy writing, so no guilt required. If you quit writing entirely, that might be different. I’ve read of other writers who have left a project “stewing on the back burner” as it were and come back to it later to great effect.


  • The Bumble Files

    Well, I don’t know if you’re going to like what I say….Finish it! Just do it! You will feel so much better having completed it. Put an ending on it, even if you’re not sure it’s the “right” one. Sometimes you have to finish it to know. You can always revise it later. Lock yourself in your room and just go for it! You can do it. I know you can.

  • Michelle Proulx

    You can absolutely put something aside — even permanently, if need be. Sometimes a piece of writing just isn’t working, for whatever reason. In my case, because the story was ridiculously bad. I wrote it in grade 11 — think high school romance full of stereotypical characters of various ethnicities going about their drama-soaked lives … and then throwing in Chinese terrorists and Russian mobsters and … yeah, it was terrible. But your story sounds like it’s not terrible — you’re just stuck on how to proceed with it. No worries! Stick it in a drawer for a few months 🙂

  • Eric Alagan

    I don’t know how real “writer’s block” is but for those who believe it has hit them – it’s real enough, I reckon.

    All my corporate life I’ve been multitasking, and brought this to writing as well. At any given time, I’m working on several writing projects – hopping from one to another. I also read several genres – again hopping from one to another.

    Just as a project reaches the peak and starts to slide, I stop and switch. I don’t wait until it hits the lows. When I return to that project a week or even months later – I slam the throttle to the firewall again!

    It works for me – but might not work for everyone.

  • dysfunctional literacy

    As long as you’re still writing, I don’t think you’ve really quit. Now you can say that you’re working on two projects at the same time, instead of one.

  • sharmishtha basu

    sometimes i put away stories for a while when i cant find a satisfactory end, and mostly they return with good ending, dont give up on them totally, when you are free keep toying with them in mind. that is my suggestion.

  • evilnymphstuff

    I have put aside projects a lot of times but when I do it it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m totally dismissing them; I move on eventually to another plot and idea but I believe that maybe one day these projects I’ve let go will come back again all fresh or will probably be an inspiration for future projects.
    But well, don’t worry, it’s ok to let go. See what’s best for you 🙂

  • Sharmishtha Basu

    what are you doing? no post for three days?? thats a really bad sign!!

    • David Stewart

      I know. 😦 This is a busy time of year for me. I have something for tonight though.

      • Sharmishtha Basu

        Hope your story writing for nephews and nieces is going on great!

        btw, our dear hotmail is not allowing me any access to my three important email ids, sharmishthabasu.live.in, another of my important ids and the id from which i used to communicate with you since i sent you my postal address. Its really weird the way only my communication ids are being wrenched away, i think i will simply announce in my blogs that i dont have anything to do with those three ids and stop using them totally and open an id outside hotmail to communicate.

  • Joyce

    David, I have had the exact same problems before. At the moment I am now concentrated on the one I am doing and posting chapters of on my blog (The Informant’s Agenda) because it is the one I am most passionate about telling and finishing. The other one (When Dark Closes In) was one I had trouble with and put aside for a while, (maybe a long while) as I ran into issues on how to finish it, what characters to keep, what parts to cut, etc. I’ve been writing fiction since the 80’s and when a project was not moving forward it was sitting still, not just on keyboard or paper, but in my head too when no clear outline or plan for its continuance or completion. I think it is always better to put aside the one that is creating a block so you can start fresh, or continue on the one that has more promise.

  • Directing: A Writer’s Dilemma | (Y) Creatives

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