After working on a project for years, months, or maybe just a few hours, you might discover that you no longer have the motivation to keep working on it. Perhaps there is another story you want to write, you may no longer identify with your characters, or maybe you just need a break from writing altogether. It’s challenging—and seemingly impossible—to put aside a project you have put so much effort into, but sometimes that’s what you have to do for your story’s success and your mental health.
When to Shelve a WIP
So, how do you know when to shelve a WIP?
The important thing is to make sure your decision is well thought out. If you decide on a whim that you don’t want to continue your project, that decision is probably made out of frustration or boredom that could be curable. You should definitely make an effort to rekindle your interest in your WIP. Try dealing with these emotions in the same way you would deal with writer’s block.
But what if you’ve tried everything? What if you don’t feel like you are the right person to tell this story anymore? What if you find yourself writing robotic scenes, devoid of emotional attachment? What if another project or story has peaked your interest so much that you simply cannot work on this WIP anymore? That’s okay!
So long as you tried to return to your original WIP, it doesn’t matter if you were successful. The point was to see if there was an alternative to setting your project aside. If there is none, do put your WIP on hold for as long as you need to.
What to Do Instead
Working on a WIP is time consuming. I don’t mean you spend hours working on your writing every day (though you might). Even if you only spend a few minutes on your WIP each day, you spend a lot more time thinking about your story (or thinking about thinking about your story). Once you put your project aside, you will probably find yourself with a lot of free time on your hands. While it may be tempting to watch a movie or surf through YouTube or do something else unproductive, you should try to use this extra time wisely. And no, I don’t mean thinking about the WIP you shelved. That’s the last thing you should do. For a few weeks (or as long as you need), you should avoid thinking about your WIP altogether, and instead spend your time focusing on other things.
Maybe you want to write something else, focus on another hobby, take some time for school or work, or simply relax. Focusing on something other than your WIP will make it easier to regain interest in it at a later time.
Eventually, you may just get the urge to go back to your WIP and keep working on it, and if you do, don’t resist that urge. Embrace it and continue where you left off.
It is more likely, however, that you will need to cultivate that urge yourself. It might require easing yourself back into the characters, themes, and plotline your story explores. Consider starting with character outlines, setting artwork, quotes, or something else that relates to your project. You should certainly reread what you wrote, and don’t be afraid to make revisions or edits as you come across them. Maybe you want to change the story to better match your current passions.
And even after all of that, you may never feel the drive to return to that project. That’s okay. If you discover that you won’t be able to work on your story with the passion it requires, it is probably better to focus on something else that interests you more.
Shelving a WIP can feel like abandoning your child: you put so much effort into a project only to stop working on it. But the truth is, when you put your writing aside, time freezes for your story. Your story will stay where you put it, unchanged, until you come back to it. Meanwhile, you have the opportunity to grow, explore other interests, and gain new perspectives. When you do return to your WIP, you will be able to think about it and add to it in more ways than you could have had you not taken the break.
Have you ever shelved a WIP? Let me know in the comments!