On Abandoned Drafts

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As a fiction writer I’ve developed the habit of starting first drafts of projects, particularly with short stories, then hitting a wall at some point in the middle, either from boredom or difficulty, then decide to pause and pursue another project. In most cases, I would not start a “new” project, but would go back to work on editing another story, as I have dozens of works in progress that need editing and rewriting. I’ve said in the past that I don’t enjoy rewriting because I find it boring and drudgery, but it’s also much easier and less cognitively intensive than writing a first draft, so it’s a nice respite after facing difficulty in the first draft on another project.

As a result of this habit, I have many abandoned first drafts of stories—though I fully intend to finish them. However, when returning to attempt to resume writing an abandoned first draft, I often find it even more difficult to get back into the flow. It’s not fresh in my mind. I often abandon a project because, midway through I make some change to the story and realize I have to go back and rewrite much of what I’d already written, which seems daunting, so I hold off and move on to another project because editing is easier than full-on rewriting. But I’ve done this enough now to realize it is a mistake.

I’ve found that it is best to stick with one project during a first draft until it is finished, no matter what kind of snags or setbacks you may face along the way. It will almost always be easier to battle through it then than at a later date. Once the first draft is finished, feel free to move on to another project before returning for a second draft. In fact, I find that’s the best thing to do: upon finishing a first draft, do one quick edit from beginning to end, then put the manuscript away for some time (weeks or more) before doing another draft. It helps to come back to a story with fresh eyes for another round of rewriting and editing.

First drafts are often rough and require a lot of editing and rewriting, which can take as much time, if not more, to complete. As I said, editing is easier because it’s refining and finessing something rather than creating something from nothing whole-cloth, but though easier, it can become boring and laborious, especially after the nth time you’ve rewritten it, and many projects, especially longer works like novels, will require multiple rewrites.

I think the editing phase is a perfectly fine time to switch back and forth between projects. I’ll often work on editing one project while also writing a first draft of another, which is also fine since writing and editing require different parts of your brain, and one is more intensive than the other. Editing can become boring, and if I get bored of one project, it can help to move on to edit something else, then return to resume editing later. But this is dangerous during first drafts.

If I abandon a first draft, it’s difficult to return to that same state of mind I was in, weeks, months, or even years later. I abandon first drafts when I face difficulty or boredom, believing it will be easier to address at a later date, but it almost never is. It becomes more difficult to get back in the groove after all that time. When writing a first draft, I’ve found it’s better to stick with one project and see it through to the end, no matter how difficult it may seem. Power through the writer’s block, even if the writing seems subpar. It will always be better to come back and edit a flawed first draft at a later date than abandon it and attempt to resume a perfect first draft later.

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