I have a longer work that took me a lot of effort to get through, and the moment I finished it, my life went crazy. That was about 6 months ago, and in the intervening time I haven't been able to pick it back up.

The story is complete, and if I may be so bold, the writing itself is solid. But it's still unpolished: I need to add a few scenes, develop a character or two more deeply than I initially did, maybe a bit more. But I can't focus on the story any more. My mind tells me "it's done," and refuses now to revisit it.

Has anyone else been in this situation before? How do you make old material feel fresh enough to work on again?

  • Often "polishing" a novel means kicking things out. Maybe you do not want to develop that character any further, because it would be better to get rid of him. His few scenes contributing to the story can be "transferred" to a different character, the others can be deleted. Sometimes that’s better than fleshing more out. Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 8:42
  • Your mind tells you two conflicting things, right? That it's done, but also that it isn't. Or who is telling you what? Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 15:44
  • John: Let's assume I actually do need to add things and not delete them. It's a judgment call, and I've had 6 months to make it. I do know how to properly edit; that's not the issue that's causing problems at the moment. Jae: the story has reached its conclusion, and so it is "done," but some elements are lacking depth, and so it is "not done." That's the conflict right there :-p
    – Turnips
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 18:28
  • Maybe I should clarify: I do have a good idea of what needs to be done to this story, I just can't get into the mood to actually write it, and that's the problem. Any time I try to add or alter a scene, I just lose inspiration after a couple sentences.
    – Turnips
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 18:34
  • Ship it and write something new. You’re done. Commented Mar 12, 2011 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


Hand it off. Find a good editor or beta reader and get someone else's take on it. Reading someone else's comments and suggestions may be enough to unstick your mental block and allow you to see how it could be improved.


Have someone else critique the piece. It doesn't have to be in-depth. It could be a significant other or a critique group. Make it clear you want to know what didn't work for them. (You might have to couch this in terms like "did you get bored or confused anywhere?") Hopefully they'll have a few comments that can give you a few places to focus on.

Another trick that I've found works well is to use the full piece to write an outline. If you already have an outline sitting around, set it aside. Read each chapter or section and then write out a summary. Consolidating the story into its basic elements can help you see what's extraneous and what's missing.


I agree with the two other answers but I'm also throwing out the idea that you, after re-examining the work carefully, leave it as it is. When I work on something I often leave many half-themes and subtle suggestions about characters open to wide intepretation by deciding to not follow a tangent or a peripheral concept to its end; this often (and usually inadvertently) adds an enigmatic depth and pads out the main ideas I work with. I use non-linear structure models when writing so this may not be workable for your piece but I felt that it would be useful to bear in mind that you have the choice; I always follow my gut when it comes to editing, if it reads well and you have something telling you "it's done" then maybe its fine as it is (but make inaction your last resort, seek critique and a fresh examination of your work)

  • +1 for the implied "don't overcharacterize". At least I think that's (a part of) what you're saying. Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 15:43
  • I would also add that you need to thoroughly re-aquaint yourself with all your old notes and comments — which you did make, yes? — and reread the thing prior to being so bold as to edit, embellish, or prune. You know, because you risk losing all the subtleties otherwise. Commented May 15, 2018 at 0:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.