Shelving Projects


am writing

So, this year I was *supposed* to be using April’s Camp Nano to keep on top of my editing plans… and despite my workload doubling (haha what even is life anymore) I’ve somehow been edging closer to the end. Which has made me pretty reflective. Most notably, I’ve been thinking about the *terrifying prospect of shelving projects*.

No, I’m not shelving my current #overlyambitiousWIP, though I might put it on pause to deal with life stuff- but I figured as I’m in one of those typical writerly moods of what-am-I-even-doing? it was as good a time as any to get this off my chest. Frankly my thoughts on #overlyambitiousWIP often range from “I hope it’s okay?” to “arghhh what have I just done?!!?” (and that’s with censoring some of the *darker* “throw it on a bonfire” thoughts… although I guess I just told you 😉) Yet, even though 99% of the time I want to hide under my bed from that wicked writing beast, I do think there is a massive difference between general my-writing-sucks-anxiety and deciding to shelve a project.

Let’s go back in time, to when I was a wee monkey teen, and wrote my first novel… and then I wrote another… completing what I thought was going to be my #dreadedduology debut… E-x-c-e-p-t  that is a very misleading way to put it- cos I was never happy with that work and consequently didn’t think I’d ever be ready to send it off into the world (I just like the alliteration now 😉 ). I mean I edited them over and over and over again… yet something didn’t sit quite right. There were flaws *obviously*- because I was young and inexperienced (but also cos a lot of first books suck tbh and if they don’t I am in AWE).

And I’d like to say it was this that led me to put it aside. My perfectionist brain certainly wasn’t satisfied with what I’d produced- however ultimately there was another glaring issue that made me finally give up on ever feeling ready to query it or self-pub or beg friends to give it a go… it was that I lost the passion I had for it. And if I was no longer excited by it, how could I sell it to someone else? As painful as that realisation was, it was freeing to admit I’d fallen out of love with it and I felt like I had permission to let go of a project I just wasn’t feeling anymore.

Now, years on, I’m actually happy I didn’t share my earlier work. Because here’s the thing- even though a lot of us fret about the rush to publication before we reach adulthood, the reality is super young authors are outliers and there’s nothing wrong or strange or unusual about being a bit older in this space. And sometimes you’ll look back on your old work and think *phew, thank goodness that’s not floating out in the world*.

What I like to take away from all this is that it’s never a waste. Of course, there’s the fact that shelving a project isn’t necessarily forever, but more importantly, I learnt so much from the process. I feel like I should have figured this out earlier, cos I wrote a fairy telling just for practice/fun/to stretch my brain. Knowing I was never gonna share this novella not only made it easier to write in a slump, I also felt I had the freedom to make mistakes and get feedback on something I didn’t feel was my-heart-and-soul (let’s be real, we see most of our book babies that way). But somehow, it took shelving something to really take the pressure off. I realised there was a huge difference between my work then and my work now- and that the decision to abandon my old work marked a greater shift. It meant acknowledging a need to work harder, a desire to get better and at least enough self-awareness to admit when something is not *there* yet (which hopefully will help me improve!)

And thanks to that, I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to my writing. I know I can fail and try again; I see the difference between trying to push for something I don’t love and persevering with something I believe in. After all, when it comes to those moments of self-doubt, I like to think of something Stan Lee said:

stan lee quote.png

For that reason, no matter how long it takes, no matter how often I’m derailed, no matter how much I sometimes question it, I’ll keep striving to finish my #overlyambitiousWIP… until the next time I have a freakout and worry it’s not good enough 😉

Hope you didn’t mind a slightly more rambly post! Now I’m wondering have you ever shelved a project? Do you agree or disagree with me here? Let me know in the comments!

46 thoughts on “Shelving Projects

  1. A big hearty YES! to all of this! Everything I wrote *years* ago has either been scraped or altered so much that its origins are buried even to me! lol! But this *is* what happens as you get older and gain life experience and craft experience and perspective on both. And it definitely does make you a better artist!

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  2. I have a few work in progress pieces I doubt I will ever return too. As I write and learn more about myself as a writier I realized I had outgrown those ideas/styles. In time I might revisit them….but probably not.

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  3. I have a project that’s currently on the shelf. I want to return to it at some point because I think it has potential. I’m just not sure how things work out (in terms of story) yet.

    I think that it’s important to hang onto those projects though (I hang on to almost everything!) because you never know when ten years later you’ll come back to it, look at it through different eyes and discover that there’s something there.

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    1. I can understand that- I do have half-baked ideas that I feel just need more work. And I do agree that it’s worth holding onto those for sure! They could end up being awesome (but I feel like these are less ideas and more something I’ve taken as far as it will go and just no longer into) But you’re right, you never know when you might want to revive a project.

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  4. I’ve recently decided to shelf at least three incomplete writing projects because I knew they weren’t working and I wasn’t sure that two of them were my stories to tell, especially after a few things that have been circulating online recently. However, I think once I’ve figured out a better story, I’ll rework some aspects so all the work I initially put into those shelved projects is not all lost.

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    1. Ah I’ve seen those things as well- I can understand that. I’ll admit I’m not always clear on what people mean by that- can I ask if it was a contemporary story you meant to tell? And that’s a good idea reincorporate it into something else.

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      1. Yeah, I was writing a YA Contemporary. My only problem is that I don’t quite know where the line is drawn between giving others the voice to tell their story, and wanting to highlight a different experience and perspective on an issue that’s personally affected me, like a specific disability or illness. One of the ways I deal with certain things is by writing about them often within fiction, and from everything that is said online, I can’t help but wonder if that’s acceptable nowadays or not as it is from a slightly abled perspective.


  5. Keep on going!

    Sometimes stories or plotlines or characters just don’t work out. Out of all the ideas a writer can have they will never achieve a 100% idea to completion success rate, it just can’t happen (and boy do I know it?!). Ideas are great launch as a way to explore what will and won’t work and some of those ideas just don’t have legs the way we want them to.

    I completely agree when you said ‘nothing is ever a waste’ because exploring those ideas and even getting quite far with them before determining that no, this is not a viable option adds so much value. Either because it’s writing practice or allowing a writer to work out the kinks of characterisation and plotting. Sometimes it’s even salvaging an idea or thread for another project.

    I enjoy letting the dust settle on some of my work and looking back because then with clearer eyes I can usually tell what was a bit of whimsy on my part or what may have potential!

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    1. Thank you!

      And I love that point about ideas being a great way to launch into what will and won’t work- I really agree! Sometimes we don’t know if a project has legs until we try it out.

      And I really agree that even if we get really far into a project, it’s not a waste. And yeah I love the point about salvaging ideas from other projects (I’ve definitely done that 😉 )

      I also really agree that it’s great to look back on work and see what worked and what didn’t- and where there might be potential for the future! Love how you put this!

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  6. YES! I talked about it at some point on my blog, but I’ve got this novel that while writing, I always had this “it’s mine and no one else” Gollum sort of feel? But I kept trying to shove that away, and I gave it to a few friends to read, and then, after their feedback, I realized I just had no interest in ever pursuing anything serious with it. I didn’t even want to edit in their feedback. I didn’t want to play in it anymore, and when I finally decided to shelve it, I found myself so freed to just hang out there anytime I wanted to and not feel pressure from it.

    I’ve also, on the complete flipside, got projects shelved that I just glare at in fury and hope that someday things will change, so I guess it’s always going to be an interesting struggle, haha.

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    1. Oh yes- I might have read it (I knew I’d read about this somewhere, but I couldn’t remember!) Regardless, that’s *exactly* what I went through! I did get a lot of feedback and actually implemented it all (even though I told one friend I was kind of done with it anyway) But I don’t think it’s a waste that I spent years improving it, if only to decide to shelve it anyway 😉 I just see that as practice now. And I really get what you mean about not wanting to play in it anymore- sometimes it feels like there are better places (/other stories 😉 ) to be in!

      Haha! Well as long as there’s still a desire to go back and change them, then the project is never really shelved in my view. I definitely have ideas/pieces of stories I want to use one day.

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  7. If we don’t worry and doubt about our ability to write, we probably have an overinflated opinion of our skill that is only confirmed by Mom. It’s doubt that keeps us motivated to edit and improve – though there is a moment when we must call it quits on WiP and move forward – query or self-publish. Then start a new book.

    Certainly, if you lose heart, time to stop and move on. It happens sometimes. Not failure but growth in a new direction, an opportunity to celebrate your maturing vision.

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    1. Very true! I definitely think doubt is healthy and doubt does not equal give up. But sometimes it’s time to move forward- and if that means leaving something behind, then so be it. And I really agree that this shouldn’t be viewed as a failure- I think the way you put it as a “maturing vision” is perfect

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  8. Love this post! I write too although I think at this point it is more of a hobby for me because I just have commitment problems lol. I agree with what you said here though about all writing being valuable because it gives you practice and experience and even if it may not be ‘good enough’ you can always go back and polish it. (My writing from years ago is super cringeworthy Haha, but maybe there are some good ideas buried in there somewhere…)

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    1. Thank you! hehe I can understand that- I have that with lots of other things 😉 haha I do get what you mean about sometimes things being a little cringey- although on that score, for something like that, I do like to recycle the core ideas or some images if they appeal to me (even if I scrapped the rest of it) so even on that front, it’s never a waste (and there is always the option to keep polishing it)

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  9. have you ever shelved a project?

    My first novel; a cold war thriller where most of the action was situated in and around Berlin of the early eighties. I even made a proof print on Amazon and gave it to a literary friend to comment upon. The main problem was that the protagonists were too flat. I agreed; so the project got shelved. Looking back upon it, I came to realize that it was way too autobiographic to my liking. I understand that most writers introduce some personal aspects into their novels, but the smart ones refrain from getting too exhibitionist. Karl Ove Knausgård, a Norwegian author known for six autobiographical novels, ended up with a divorce, a big family feud and no friends or social life because of that.

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    1. Absolutely- I talked a little in the post about it, but to be more specific, I wrote a YA fantasy duology and couldn’t get the first one right (despite ruthlessly rewriting and overhauling it I-don’t-know-how-many-times). I can understand about the flat protagonist, cos I ended up changing their personality completely cos I thought it was boring. I also got told it was episodic(to be fair, it was first written for a serial), so I changed the plot. And a bunch of other things. By the time I’d done all of that though, I just wasn’t proud of it. And I get what you mean about being too autobiographical as well. I think that’s a danger that’s easy to fall into.

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  10. Oh goodness, I have shelved SO MANY PROJECTS. I need to find — make — the time to work on just my writing, because when I allow myself to get distracted, I WILL GET DISTRACTED, and then the work will linger until I get (temporarily) interested in something new and whatever I had been working on gets shelved by default. Someday I will toss the shelves and see what comes out of it. Maybe an old project will interest me again and I can make it into something. Maybe two projects will get combined and I can get something good out of that. Who knows.

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    1. Ah I can completely understand that. I have so many ideas and projects lying around and I always skip between ideas (having worked on the same thing for such a long time, I’m a little scared to pick one of those ideas up, cos I’m scared it won’t stick). But I definitely think it makes sense to go through the backlog and see if an old project seems appealing in the future!

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  11. I’ve never written anything longer than a blog post (and wowzers, some of those early ones… how did I even get any followers?) so I can’t relate exactly but I do know the feeling of finally letting something that’s not right go. I guess you just have to see those early attempts as building blocks for your epic new work 😉 I look forwards to saying “I knew her when she was a lowly monkey blogger, moaning about Mary Sue characters” when you finally unleash your novel on the world 😂😂😂

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    1. hehehe I know the feeling about looking back on old blog posts 😉 (I often think “surely they can’t be that bad… oh never mind, they’re that bad” 😉 ) And I like the way you put it about letting something that’s not right go. hahaha! Well I definitely see it as building blocks- I can only dream that it will somehow turn into an epic new work 😉 hahaha!!

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      1. Haha well at least they show growth, even if my first blog posts are super embarrassing “I liked this book because of x. The end (insert terrible rating system)” 😂.

        I’m sure if you take some of the ideas that you put into the work and leave them to bounce around in the back of your brain they’ll mutate into some magical new ones. All you need is…ooh, 20 years or so?

        2039 will be your year!!!

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  12. We are always our own worst critics aren’t we? I am not a writer, so I don’t have any experience in that department, but I can relate to the feeling of not being good enough. I’m happy to see you’ve learned from your earlier works & don’t feel like they were a waste. It’s always nice to go back and see how far you’ve come 🙂 Keep working on that WIP!

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  13. I can totally relate, whether it’s writing or painting, there are a couple of projects I’ve shelved for now, hoping that my muse is going to strike me sooner or later on how to finish them 😄 And then there are of course those projects that completely failed and I’m sooo glad I never shared them! 😂 But keeping them is also nice as it shows you how far you’ve come. 😊
    Love that quote too! 😄💕

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    1. Ahh I totally relate there as well!! haha I know what you mean! I’m always happy when I didn’t put certain projects out there. And yeah for sure!! I do like to look back on where I started (and sometimes even pickpocket ideas from there 😉 ❤

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  14. I sort of needed this post today. I don’t talk a lot about the writing aspect of my life. I wrote one MSS when I was a 20-something, and never did anything with it because it was something I did for fun. A hobby if you will. When I re-read it years later I cringed and laughed at how bad it was but don’t regret writing it. It was fun, and as you said, I learned a lot.

    I’m now doing all those things you mentioned above with my second MSS. It’s completed, and this one really is my heart and soul. The MC has been living in my head for 2+ years. It’s gotten some initial positive feedback from early beta readers, and then it underwent serious revisions.

    Then it got more positive feedback, and my mom somehow got her hands on it. She then gave it to my sister and then gave it to my dad (things are a little out of hand)- and I do take everything they say with a grain of salt, but they encouraged me to submit it to agents.

    So I did my research and got to work. Received my first rejection yesterday, but I think the most discouraging thing is feeling like there is no market for my MSS right now. Everyone seems to want YA while my work falls firmly in the realm of Adult. Everyone wants “fresh and new” while also asking for the same exact things in their MSWL.

    1 rejection is nothing in the publishing world, I know. But just putting myself out there and getting to know the writing community and seeing how many people share that same exact dream… it’s overwhelming for sure.

    I’m not going to shelve it yet- I’ll let it go for as long as I can take the rejection. But it hurts to think the world might never get to know the MC.

    Anyway- super long rambling response- thanks for letting me vent!

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    1. I’m really glad this helped! I can really relate to writing for fun and then not having so much fun reading it back 😉

      It’s really great that you’ve now written something you’re more passionate about though. And fantastic that your family are so supportive!

      I wouldn’t say there’s no market for adult- though I think there’s quite a lot of people being vocal about YA- there are still hugely successful books aimed at adults. And personally I think it can be a more interesting section… at least that’s what I tell myself cos I write for adults too 😉

      That said, *wow* your point about everyone claiming to want “fresh and new” whilst also wanting the exact same thing speaks to me so much- it’s actually one of my biggest writing insecurities. I don’t think there’s much to be done about that if I’m honest, cos a lot of advice/things agents say about that is different. And I think we can only write the story we want and see where it goes from there.

      I definitely think that 1 rejection is nothing in the publishing world and you really shouldn’t be discouraged by it! In fact, as long as you’re passionate about the project, I think you should go for it! For me, the point when you should shelve a project is when you no longer want to work on it. Even in a dream scenario, if someone took out my old MSS and said “hey do you want to resurrect this thing?” my reaction would be “ugh”. That’s the point when I know it’s not worth pursuing. I can really understand the point about feeling like it’s sad the world won’t know your MC- it was actually my love for my second MSS that made me want to persevere for the longest time with the first MSS. So, again it comes back to if you’re willing to work on it, now or in the future, it’s totally worth pushing forward.

      And I do think that regardless of how many other people are in the industry. There are so, so many examples of ridiculously successful authors who struggled (not just the obvious ones like Rowling). Plus, I think it’s an expanding industry- which means other people’s success doesn’t detract, it just adds to demand and potential for more upcoming authors! At least, that’s the way I look at it.

      So no, I don’t think you should shelve your project. No worries about the long comment- I hope you don’t mind my long reply!

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      1. Definitely don’t mind! It’s nice just to commiserate with someone. Sometimes writing feels like the loneliest hobby, so it’s good to support each other.

        And the one good thing about working in the adult market is there is less competition. Also less agents repping us, but we will persist!

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  15. Such a great post, I can really relate to this! I also shelved a project I’d been working on for years (my first novel) – and like you, the biggest reason was that I fell out of love with it. I don’t think it was completely terrible (and I did send it out into the world a little bit – i.e. to friends and a few agents, and it got me into a writing retreat workshop thing which was nice), but it also just didn’t have that ‘spark’ and wasn’t the best I could do, or as you put it, it wasn’t *there* yet. I was also lucky to get some advice from a mentor to try writing something new, which helped me get some distance from it and move on to new projects. Now I’m also glad it isn’t floating around out there (well, it kind of is, but not in any published, easily discoverable format!)

    With new projects though it is sometimes terrifying to think you might be investing all this time in a manuscript just to shelve it… especially when seized by those fits of general-writing-anxiety and bonfire moments (I’m having those with my current WIP too). But you’re right that it’s never time wasted and it’s really important to finish these things… and who knows, the current one might be the one that doesn’t get shelved!! I hope that’s the case with your ‘overly ambitious WIP’!


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