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When To Quit An Idea

Writing a novel takes tenacity, ambition, and a whole lot of caffeine. Being able to push through obstacles is a well known part of being an author, but what isn’t talked about is the imperative of knowing when to quit an idea.

Not all quitting is failure

To quit an idea completely, never to return to the thing that makes you passionate and that you have a gift for, is a failure. Quitting an idea because you know it’s a dead end and it will consequently spur you on to something new is just good writing practice.

There can be many reasons why, fundamentally, an idea for a novel just isn’t gelling. First, try some writing tips to boost motivation to see if the problem is merely procrastination.

If the process of writing still feels like you’re walking through sludge, you may need to have a drastic rethink. If “turning up” to your writing each time is getting harder to do, or Leo’s journey in The Revenant seems a mere road trip compared to navigating your plot, then the time has come to re-evaluate the original idea.

This can be a daunting proposition. It’s natural to want to cling on to the idea that initially made you sit on the train, cup suspended in mid-air, as your firecracker of an idea burst into your mind. But if you aren’t getting anywhere with it, it’s time to abandon it. Be courageous and rip it away like a plaster. You don’t even need to dispose of it, maybe keep it in a drawer in case there’s a section of writing you want to revisit. It just needs to not be the soul sucking creative ballast that it’s been up until now.

 How to spot you’re in a writing slump

You can’t ignore the signs any more. To fully quit an idea you have to recognise when it’s not working. If the story isn’t making you leap out of bed in the morning with a Mary Poppins type of optimism, then quit quit quit!

Look out for these:

When to quit an idea:


Are you flitting between characters, perspectives, or settings a bit like a moth? Do you settle for a bit on one scene, lose interest and then move on to the next? This is a classic sign that the ideas you have for your story are not fully developed enough for you to get into the nitty gritty of writing.

Your idea may be an exciting luminous spark, but it won’t keep burning without the right fuel beneath.

To build a robust story, you have to set sturdy foundations and build a world that’s authentic. 

Back story

Are you, in fact, more interested in your back story than the main one?

Indications of this would be writing a prologue that tells too much and works as a bit of an exposition dump. Or, does your plot involve a lot of flashbacks?

Try and locate what it is that is actually driving you to write. You might find that your actual story is in the subtext. Write what makes you lose track of time.

For tips on identifying this, take a look at a brilliant article on how to tell if back story is sabotaging your novel.


Writers can be nimble and creative when it comes to procrastination tactics.

During the week you’ll say to yourself that this coming weekend will be dedicated to writing. Saturday morning comes and you realise you need to go out and get an extra loaf of bread, in case you run out, or it’s an immediate necessity to sort through your email inbox.

Procrastination is normal, but if it’s happening all the time, the problem might be down to the actual idea itself. Has the initial excitement has worn off?

The Market

Are you focussing too much on market trends and not what you’re passionate about?

Yes, dark psychological thrillers with a female protagonist (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, Disclaimer) might be booming right now. But if your heart lies in writing YA fantasy, then follow it! Don’t force yourself to write in a genre that doesn’t feel natural. Quit the unnecessary struggle.

We looked at the idea of ignoring the market in a recent journal entry: Choosing Passion over Profit.

 Onwards and upwards

Being courageous and clear-sighted enough to quit an idea leads to a fresh approach to your writing. Mentally you shed the idea that was holding you back and are free to follow a more fruitful path. Exercises like free writing can be really useful here to help get to the core of what you really want to write.

So, if you’re in a writing rut, it could be the idea itself that’s the problem. Stubbornness isn’t the way forward here. If a story’s not working, quit!

To reignite your passion for writing, here are some simple writing tips to discover that new idea:

writing tips

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