In 2015 I wrote the first two thirds of a novel (as part of NaNoWriMo). I stopped at that point because I had written the 50,000 words required for the 'competition' but the story is not yet complete. I have an outline in my head of how it pans out - so that's not an issue.

One problem is that the novel was (is) set in my home town of York in 2015 and time, as it does, has moved on since. Half a year after breaking off, I could have started the final third of the novel in a 'six months later' fashion, but I think that 'three years later' might be stretching it.

Another problem is that because I have the end of the novel in my head, I have less motivation to finish it. Because it feels like I've finished it already (in my head) this kind of serves as a damper to my creativity.

Lastly - the world seems to have moved on and the issues in my novel don't seem as relevant to a readership and they once were. Plus - the issues are around the karmic/rebirth aspects of child-abuse and I'm not sure how palatable they would be to any audience anyway.

Generally - is it a bad idea to try to finish a novel after a long break or would it be more productive to just start a new project from scratch? And, if it's not too broad a question, how might one go about restarting such an old project?

PS I noticed this question: How to restart a novel(la)? but the answers talk about how to extend a novella into a novel rather than how to restart.

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    What exactly does the time aspect have to do with it? Just because you set it down for 3 years doesn't mean you need a 3 year gap in your book! Is there something about the content of the novel you haven't mentioned that requires the link to realtime?
    – esoterik
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 17:53
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    It seems odd that you are expecting time in the story to match up with real-world time. What I mean is, why should taking a six month break mean the story breaks for six months? Why should picking up 3 years later mean the story picks up 3 years later? Were you writing autobiography as it happened? Or was the book deeply tied to current events? It isn't impossible to write that way, but it certainly isn't required or even common. EDIT: It seems that esoterik and I had the same question simultaneously... Commented May 29, 2018 at 18:02
  • I wouldn't say the goal of nanonomo is not to write 50,000 words, but to write a novel. And that's just the explicit goal so you have something to aim for, and to prevent trivial entries. The implicit goal is to inspire people to write!
    – corsiKa
    Commented May 29, 2018 at 19:04
  • @corsiKa - we're both half way to the whole - the site says "the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel".
    – robertcday
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 9:15
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    @robertcday In that case, I think you should rewrite your question, because the main issues facing you are not the generic ones of re-entering a project after a long time, but the specific and highly unusual ones of trying to finish a novel in "realtime" after a gap. BTW, I should note, I've never heard of anyone doing this (writing a novel that way). Not that that makes it wrong, it's just --very specific to you. Commented May 30, 2018 at 14:46

9 Answers 9


This may be opinion based. My advice is to at least finish it - and here's why. If you allow yourself to not finish, you are setting a precedent for yourself. You are patterning to you that you don't need to finish. Likewise, if you finish it, even if poorly, you are disciplining yourself to finishing the project.

Finish it. Commit to three weeks of writing, and finish it.

And, you may want to think in terms of numerous revisions awaiting you, on whatever project you do finish. Three years is not unusual at all for a new author to start writing, edit, find an agent, find a publisher, and have the book to the masses. The 'it's been three years' argument doesn't hold, to me, for that reason. Unless you are writing within a blog format or similar, which is immediately out there to the world, you might expect some length of time between writing and publishing. Self publishing is quicker, and maybe that's what you plan. It comes with other issues.

Tweak the story, make it less time dependent, update it. Obviously you know your story and I don't, but from what you've provided, those are my thoughts.

Good luck.


I'm in a similar situation to you. I wrote the first 50,000 words of a novel during a NaNoWriMo (I can't remember which at the moment) and then finished it up during a Camp NaNoWriMo. If you are looking to finish an old story you started during a NaNoWriMo, I would highly recommend doing a Camp NaNoWriMo. There is one in April and July. You can set your own goal in words or hours. It's what I did, and it worked out quite nicely.

I would definitely recommend finishing your story. Unless, the story is complete crap. My second book was written during NaNoWrimo, and it was horrible and unfinished. The premise was dumb, the characters were boring, and nothing worked. I never finished it and have no plans to.

I think for that story it would have been better to completely restart. No amount of editing or finishing the story could have saved the reader from that disaster.

If you are passionate about a story, but are lacking motivation, I would suggest taking a break. I find this helpful as I try to edit my book. Take a few weeks off from working on your book. When you com back, look at it with fresh eyes and decide whether or not the book deserves to be continued, restarted, or scrapped all together.

There are no easy, definitive answers to this question and it is something you must struggle with on your own.


Lastly - the world seems to have moved on and the issues in my novel don't seem as relevant to a readership and they once were…

Respectfully, it may be the author who has moved on (but yes, I think for many people the world has changed so I am not saying your point isn't valid). You have something of length that can be analyzed. That's an opportunity to become a better writer in itself.

What I feel will be more productive is to analyze your 3 year old novel and perform a project post-mortem – also called a project retrospective. It is a process for evaluating the success (or failure) of a project's ability to meet its goals.

I offer a counterpoint to the "finish it to set good writing habits" answer. Finishing a novel is more than filling in all the words. You hit the NaNoWriMo writing goal 3 years ago, and you don't need to prove you can hit a word goal or a write to a deadline. In fact, I find it curious that once you hit the word count you dropped it.

NaNoWriMo seems like a good way to power through some pants writing. I humbly suggest that pants writing is never going to be more than a first draft (I am ok with other writers disagreeing, I speak as a reader). The other 2 options (finish it or start over) are each valid depending on what you want to do with the story, but either way I think you will be better off doing a post-mortem first.

3 years is safe distance to critically review your writing style, prose, characterization, intent, pacing, etc. You may find the topic no longer interests you, or you may discover some new inspiration from the emergent themes and tone. At the very least you may discover something about what kind of author you were back then vs the kind you want to be in the future.

You might also at least outline the missing 3rd based on the post-mortem, with an eye to making the story stronger than you'd originally planned. I am trying not to use judgement terms like "fixing" the novel, especially if it is being re-written or left un-finished. Old writing is not "broken". You might discover you have changed, or that there are some great moments there that you would like to recycle or improve on in the next novel.


I am a discovery writer (and find the term "pantster" as pejorative as "plodder" instead of "plotter."). All writers must go through a phase of discovering their story, whether it is inventing a detailed plot or inventing the plot as one writes so it fits the characters, culture, and world as they are getting introduced.

That said, I have abandoned stories, because I just did not like the premise anymore.

I wouldn't participate in NaNoWriMo, I don't rush my writing that much, and I will revise and will not finish a scene until I feel like it works with the story and the characters. The idea of "get it all out" is silly to me: I am building a house of cards, if I am not careful at every step, the stability grows worse with every level and it will all collapse.

So this particular story: I would either abandon, or start over from scratch. Read what you have, if you think there is a story you want to write in there, keep what you have for a scavenging reference and re-begin the story from scratch.

As for "out of date", you can use what you have to figure out how you did that: It is an error. IMO nothing I write will be out of date in just 3 years, or just 10. No novel should be so dependent upon any current events or some precise level of technology that it isn't worth reading next year. That is a recipe for failure, it may take more than a year to get it published.

So figure out how to avoid that. Sure, none of us oldies saw the switch coming from land-line phones to cellular, or the rise of the Internet back in the early 80's. Or the acceptance and arrival of same-sex marriage. Technology, medicine, and politics evolve and get dated. But ... three years? You got something in your style needs fixin', bro!


Whether you should finish it or start a new project is a question only you can answer.

A previous poster on here asked, 'How do you know when to give up on a writing project?' and someone answered 'When you ask about it on stack exchange.'

LOL It was a good point! But the answer got deleted!

The question is here and it's worth a read as there's some good advice in there: How do you know when to give up on a writing project?

I think, if you lack the motivation to finish it, while DPT is right and it will be good writing practice to finish it, it will be hard to do and possibly awful if you force yourself.

Writing a novel is hard enough even when you are feeling inspired and fully charged to reach the end.

What I would suggest is to take the story back to its basics. Look at the plot and the characters and see if there are nuggets of gold to be mined there. If there are, you could consider taking the bones of the story and reconstructing them into something new and thrilling.

Research your topic areas, go down the rabbit hole and read around them. You may find that, although things have moved on in the subject area, there are new and exciting things that you didn't even consider first time around.

So, rather than slogging through the final chapters, rewrite it into something you're proud of and finish it that way.

But if the prospect fills you with dread, that's a sign that it should be shelved as a worthy learning experience and start something completely new that does inspire you.

Good luck!


My two cents is this; if you're A. writing for yourself, then commercial considerations are irrelevant and that if you feel the story is finished then physically writing anything more is emotionally pointless, but if you feel dissatisfied with the situation you should finish it, closure is useful. If you're writing for personal reasons then the setting/timing issues shouldn't be allowed to stand in your way, resolve them in whatever way works for you. B. if you want to finish the story because of publication commitments then commercial considerations are important and should dictate your path forward, again timing/setting issues can be resolved in any way that makes the story work, usually by ignoring the fact that any time has passed between starting and finishing the book and establishing the setting as a particular date regardless of when you're writing.

I've dropped entire universes worth of story material for five years or more and gone back to them to write something new in that setting or to update existing works so old work can be accessible for completion or rework if it fits your current creative frame. You has two options when returning to old material as well, you can finish an existing work or you can use the material from the existing work to write something different, something new as a work but old in it's outlook/content.


Generally - is it a bad idea to try to finish a novel after a long break or would it be more productive to just start a new project from scratch? And, if it's not too broad a question, how might one go about restarting such an old project?

I have heard this called the Steven King method, based on the potentially apocryphal story of King leaving a manuscript in his desk for a year, only to revisit and rewrite it with fresh eyes. The general idea is that given the time one will be more objective about the story.

This method normally applies to finished works, but I no reason it shouldn't be similarly effective on partially/mostly finished works.

As for starting over with a new idea, one would be as productive as one is with a new work; unless you think your work is a lost cause, re-writing has the benefit of the previous effort that went into it. This benefit should always be positive in productivity, almost by definition.


Robert, I've thrown out two-thirds of everything I've every written with multiple rewrites, so I don't believe you need to restart this project just because you already poured 50,000 words into it. However, DPT suggests above that you might want to finish the project for self-discipline. That's worth thinking about.

Both of the themes you mention - karma/rebirth and child abuse - are timeless, as alive today as they were a thousand years ago. Sure, our news cycle moves on but your big picture sounds interesting and complex. That's worth thinking about, too. There are ten ways to strip out the newsy parts to get to the deeper themes that are worth fully developing into a book. Don't be afraid to change your mind about how it ends, either. Just a thought.

If instead you have moved on and the subject no longer interests you, then it might be better to start fresh with something else and consider the old project good writing experience.


It sounds like you've got just enough motivation to want to do it (or you wouldn't have come here!), but not quite enough to be enthusiastic about it.
I never try and be creative when I'm not feeling it. The results are always sub-par and in the worst cases can turn me off a project altogether when simply waiting until I'm in the right mood might produce a better end product.

You're doing this for yourself, just be clear that you actually care enough to want it.

If it's a story you want to tell, but the dressing feels dated or no longer relevant, ask yourself how you can tell the story in a more contemporary fashion, then write that story :)

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