Words on a Page Writings about writing

Should you throw in the towel?

Conceding defeat in a chess game

On several occasions over the years, I’ve been branded quitter. Why? Because I gave up on certain writing ideas or projects I’d been working on. I had reasons for doing that, which made sense at the time and still do today.

Some writers I know, and several more non writers, have looked at me in shock and dismay when I told them that. How could I, they asked toss away that idea or abandon that project?

There comes a time, often more than one time, when a writer has to throw in the towel. The truth is that not everything you write will turn out well. Not every ideas is going to result in something good, or even decent

Here are a few situation when you should throw in the towel.

You can’t get started

You have an idea. Maybe you’ve got an opening sentence or paragraph. But you’ve got nothing else. You just can’t get the idea or project rolling. It’s just sitting there, and will continue to sit there.

If you can’t start writing something, you’ll never finish it. It doesn’t matter how invested in the idea you are, if you haven’t made any progress on it then get rid of it.

You can’t finish what you started

In the introduction to one of his collections of stories, Garrison Keillor briefly mentioned a novel he was working on. That novel just wouldn’t wrap up and it, in Keillor’s words, keeled over and died.

You’ll run into that problem every so often. Either a piece of writing that goes on and doesn’t stop, or something that you’re continually revising without an end in sight.

You can keep trying to chip away at that piece of writing, wasting your mental energies. Or, you can let it die on the vine and more on to writing something more worthwhile, something that you will finish.

You don’t have time to devote to the idea or project

Your idea or project languishes, maybe in a file folder or a notebook or in an application like Evernote. You want to get to it, but other writing or other work or life just takes over and takes up all of your time.

We all have or had at least one idea or project like that. I know I have! You can keep that idea or project in a folder or notebook or note-taking application. You can convince yourself that you’ll find time to do it later. But that later rarely, if ever, comes.

It’s just not working out

That idea or project might have seemed like a good idea at the time you gave birth to it. As you’re working on it, that idea or project might not be gaining traction. You might be losing confidence in it.

Not everything you start writing, not every idea you have, will work out. I’ve had dozens of ideas which sounded good when I came up with them, but when I started working on them I realized that those ideas were anything but good.

Throwing in the towel can be demoralizing. But it also can be liberating. Instead of putting your effort into something that’s not going to work out, throwing in the towel lets you move on to ideas and projects that have a better chance of seeing the finish line, that have a better chance of gaining an audience.

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