Revive Old Writing Project, or Let It Die?

Categories: Instruction, MentorSpace, Other, Publishing, Teaching, Tools and Resources, Writing and Editing

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No matter how organized or productive we are, sometimes we run out of ideas, enthusiasm, time, or all of the above. The piece of writing we thought would change the world is now gathering dust. In this series of posts, I’ve been exploring issues writers face when they are stymied by incomplete writing projects.

Options include dusting off the unfinished article, book or chapter and refreshing it with updated literature and/or data.We might pull back from the scholarly content (especially if it is dated) and create some practical how-to resources. We could re-purpose it, using the half-done piece as the basis for a more informal item for our professional society’s blog or newsletter. We could ask for help, perhaps by joining a supportive writing group, requesting feedback from trusted colleagues, or by looking for co-authors who could bring new insights to the project.


Or we can declare it dead, and start fresh with a new direction for our writing. How do we decide which is the best path forward?


Escape the self-defeating cycle.

Have you been trapped in this loop? You want to move forward, but you feel that you must first complete what you started.

Re-visit the obstacles. Are the “I can’t finish it because…” obstacles ones you can realistically surmount? If so, make a plan, set up systems of accountability that will work for you, and re-commit to the project.

Are your obstacles related to time, focus, content, or tools? By identifying the issues, can you find ways to address them? (Find more MethodSpace resources on productive writing here.)

If obstacles include deficiencies in skills or abilities necessary to writing success, take a candid look at feedback you have received, and identify what you need to learn. If these issues will cause obstacles to completion of future projects, think about ways to mitigate them. Look for tutorials or classes that can help you address the gaps. In the process, you might find encouragement and camaraderie with other aspiring writers.

When you realize that the obstacles to completion of this project are simply too great, let it go.

Avoid sacrificing the future to the past. It was a great concept… was being the operative term. If obstacles to completion are too great, and the old project is keeping you from moving forward, it is counter-productive to persist. Let it go. If you made commitments, or have agreements, take the steps needed to withdraw. Come to terms with this ending, and use it as a springboard for a new beginning.

It is always hard to give up and say goodbye. Create a positive impetus by using this farewell as a teachable moment. Reflect on lessons learned. What will you do differently with the new project? How will you avoid falling back into the self-defeating cycle?

Share your stories! How have you revived– or buried– problematic writing projects? Use the comment area to share experiences and tips!


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