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What to Do If Your Book Writing Project Is Stalled

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

It's easy to get sidetracked when working on a long-term project like a manuscript.

It's easy to get sidetracked when working on a long-term project like a manuscript.

I got a great question from one of my regular readers about what to do about finishing writing a book that has been stalled for a very long time. This was more than just standard writer’s block; this was more like restarting after a complete abandonment of a project and struggling to stay on task to finish it.

I’m sure all authors have a project or two of this type sitting in the shadows of possibility. I know I do. They’re buried in long-forgotten folders on my computer, unlikely ever to be touched again. But then, one day, something reminds me of the idea, and wonder if I should give it another go.

So, let’s talk about what to do if this happens in your writing adventures. But first, let’s talk about why it happens.

Why Do Writing Projects Go Unfinished?

Many times, book writing projects are abandoned because there was something more important happening. Family or personal health crises, financial troubles, raising kids, finishing college, searching for a job, even other book projects get in the way. The list is endless. Writing a book took a backseat to these more important priorities. You shuffled this project into a “someday” category. Nothing wrong with that.

Then one day, after all things urgent have been handled and life returns to normal, you’re reminded of that book idea gathering dust in your hard drive. This may happen days, years, or even decades after the book idea was shelved. Now what? You need to figure out what your relationship with this book is now.

How Do You Feel About This Book Project Now?

As you review your old notes or manuscript drafts, what feelings come up for you? Failure? Excitement? Dread? Embarrassment (either for not finishing it or because the whole idea seems silly now)? Confusion? Identify how you feel about this project now. There are no right or wrong ways to feel about it.

If you don’t feel jazzed and excited about the idea of finishing it—in other words, it's a "have to" instead of a "want to"—it might need to be sent back to where it came from until another day. Be aware that you may feel a sense of loss as you put it back into the caverns of your computer and cranium. That’s okay. It may resurface again in some way down the road, and it may not. At least now you’ve now opened up that mental and emotional space for some new ideas and opportunities. But, if the idea still gets your mental motor running, proceed to the next step.

Why Is This Book Writing Project Resurfacing Now?

Here’s a question that might seem surprising to some. Why the heck is this book-writing project resurfacing in your awareness now?

Unfinished Business—Not Just an Unfinished Book

This still-unfinished work could remind you of some unfinished business, either personal or professional, that you didn’t address back then and for which you feel must have some closure. You’ve told yourself that once you finish this book project, whatever the other issue is will be finished, too. Though the finished book project could give you a feeling of emotional accomplishment, it may not automatically result in a sense of finality for the underlying issue.


When you were actively working on the book in the past, you may have been at a happy place in your life. You associate the good feelings you were experiencing then with the book project regardless of whether they were related to the book or not. You may feel that when you resume work on the unfinished book, you’ll simultaneously resurrect the same good old feelings again.

This is an exceptionally seductive mindset that could lead to disappointment since logically, you’re aware that you can’t go back again. You were a different person back then. In addition to disappointment, it can also result in a very uneven final work since you’ve likely developed and matured emotionally and in your writing skill. There could be obvious differences between what you wrote then and what you write now.

What Triggers Brought this Work up From the Past?

What was happening or what did you see that brought up the memory of this unfinished book? Here are some examples:

  • Maybe you saw a book on the market that was similar to that old unfinished manuscript. You might be a bit jealous of the more ambitious author who actually made their book a reality. Now you want to prove yourself.
  • A friend or family member might be trying to be encouraging by reminding you of that still-unfinished project. Though most may just be trying to help you achieve your dreams and keep moving forward, you may interpret their reminders as a signal that you’re not measuring up somehow. So you feel that once this darn book is done, you’ll satisfy both them and you.

When a memory of this unfinished book pops into your awareness, identify what else is in your attention space to help determine what triggered the memory in the first place. This way, you’ll be armed for when it happens again.

Is This Book Idea Still Viable?

One of the problems of resurrecting long-forgotten book project ideas, even if they’re personally exciting, is that they may be totally irrelevant today. Because I’m a nonfiction writer, and some of my books have dealt with technology developments in some way, old book ideas can now be completely obsolete. I find that these are easy to delete from the hard drive of my computer and my brain.

But what about fiction? Fiction and poetry can be evergreen content with a long shelf life, so restarting a fiction project could make more sense. Even at that, has the market for the type of fiction changed or declined since you dropped the project? In that case, getting it published could turn it into an also-ran title in a market that has already fizzled out or moved on to something else. It might be time for you to move on, too.

Why Do You Want to Finish Writing the Book Now?

Let’s say that the book idea still excites you and that a market still exists for a book of this type. Then the question is why is it imperative for you to finish this work now? Your “why” will drive this book’s future.

If you can’t come up with a compelling reason to finish this book—whether it’s financial gain, a bucket-list item, a desire to connect with the audience, recognition, personal accomplishment, or something else—you will continue to struggle as you finish writing this book.

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Just because you started writing a book doesn’t mean you have to finish it (unless you're under a book deal contract to do so). Creative productivity and success are just as much about what you do as what you discard.

The Final Test

Here are a couple of other things you can do to help you finally decide whether to resume work on an unfinished book manuscript:

Hire an Editor (or Some Friends) to Do a Book Critique/Beta Reading of Your Draft

Even if you still find the idea of finishing the book exciting, and you’ve determined that a market may exist for it, the work you’ve already done may not be that good, thereby requiring even more work to get it finished. This is where a professional editor can be of help. A formal book critique or beta reading can help you evaluate whether the effort involved in going forward would be worthwhile.

Estimate the Amount of Work and Expense Required

This could be the make-or-break element that might help you decide whether to finish the book, put it back in the unfinished archive, or just trash the idea forever. Even if moving forward might not be that expensive from a dollar standpoint, if it will entail a great deal of emotional strain and time, decide if it’s worth the psychological and time investment.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Nikki Khan from London on December 01, 2017:

Thanks dear,,you have a good weekend too..Many blessings

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 01, 2017:

Nikki, agreed, there can be a sense of accomplishment--as well as relief!--when a long-stalled project finally gets done. But it's tough when life gets in the way of doing that. Sometimes the Universe has other plans for us. :) Thanks for chiming in and have a great weekend ahead!

Nikki Khan from London on December 01, 2017:

Very informative article Heidi Thorne,,everyone has some unfinished projects,I do have too.But sometimes,you are too busy with life to look back at your projects.But best thing is whenever you find time,you should definitely try to finish those up.It gives you an inner satisfaction of completing your projects.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 30, 2017:

Linda, I hope it provokes some people to rethink revisiting old, worn out ideas that are just no longer worth pursuing. Thanks, as always, for your kind words and have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 30, 2017:

Flourish, it's sometimes hard to say goodbye to those half-done projects. But I'm getting better at just letting them go. I've noticed that every time I try to jumpstart them again, it gets more difficult. That's the true sign it should be "goodbye and good riddance."

Thanks for chiming in and have a lovely day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 29, 2017:

This is a thought-provoking article, Heidi. You've raised a lot of good points.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 29, 2017:

Everyone has unfinished projects and you handle this topic superbly, Sometimes it’s better to decide to bury a project and be done with it than invest significantly more resources.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 28, 2017:

Bill, I don't have the heart to wade through my files of "ideas whose time has not yet come." I'll let the Universe send me a sign. ;) And, someday in the far future, maybe our unfinished works might see the light of day and get published posthumously... just like Beethoven's Unfinished Symphony (which is reported to be just fragments stitched together at a much later time). We can only hope for such genius.

Thanks for chiming in, as always! Have a great day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 28, 2017:

All good thoughts for sure. I don't even know how many projects are in the closet waiting to be finished. Too many to think about, and it is all due to lack of time I'm afraid. Some of them may never see the light of day. Such is life. :)

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