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Do you salvage or abandon a piece of writing?

A pencil, a notepad, and some crumpled paper

Every writer eventually winds up with that piece of writing. You finish or come close to finishing something, but it’s not quite right. It didn’t turn out the way you expected it to. The piece doesn’t sing, it doesn’t soar. The core, the heart, of that piece of writing is there but the rest of it doesn’t really work.

When that happens, you have a difficult choice to make: do you salvage that piece of writing or do you abandon it? Here’s some advice that can help you make the choice.

Is the writing worth salvaging?

We all like to think that every idea we have is great. That it’s the next big thing, no matter how small it is. That with enough work, we can make the idea shine.

Don’t fool yourself.

Not all ideas are created equally. There might not be a market for that piece of writing, at least a market that will be either profitable or which will spread your work further afield. It could be that you’re not fully engage with the topic, and trying to salvage it won’t make you any more engaged. You could wind up just going through the motions and the result could be even more lacklustre.

Do you have the time to salvage it?

Depending on what you’ve written, it could take a bit of time to salvage it. Obviously, a shorter article or blog post or essay will be quicker to rework than, say, a piece of long-form writing or a book.

If you hear yourself saying I’ll get back to it eventually, don’t bother trying. Chances are, you won’t get back to it. Ever. And if that eventually does come, the time for the idea underlying what you plan to salvage might have passed.

You should also consider the effort versus the reward. If you spend five additional hours reworking a piece of writing but wind up selling it for $50 or $100, then you haven’t made much (if any) profit.

Will it reach an audience?

For most writers, at least ones who aspire to make their livings with their keyboards, reaching an audience is key. That goes hand-in-hand with getting paid. That goes hand-in-hand with being a professional.

If what you’re trying to salvage will never reach a paying audience, then you should probably abandon it. While salvaging that piece of writing can be a good exercise in rewriting or editing, it doesn’t pay the bills. It does nothing to advance your career. You’re better off focusing your time and energy on work that will reach an audience, that will pay, and that will be a good addition to your portfolio or list of published credits.

Will you be able to salvage it?

You can’t salvage every piece of writing that isn’t working. You might just have a lemon on your hands. There’s no shame in that.

In this case, it’s better to abandon the piece of writing rather than spending your time and energy trying to salvage it. You’ll only wind up with frustration and heartbreak if you do.

It can be difficult to decide whether to salvage or abandon a piece of writing. You need to look at the piece of writing closely, put your ego aside, and make the decision (however harsh) that’s best for you and for that piece of writing.

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