How to Know It's Time to Shelve Your Novel

Photo credit: Erwyn van der Meer (Flickr)
I received an interesting question on the blog from one of you lovely readers the other day (have I mentioned lately how much I love it when this happens? Keep the questions coming, you fabulous readers, you). As is often the case, it was a question that I thought I'd answered, but I've since realized that I skimmed over.

You see, I've written in the past about what happens when your novel isn't the one—meaning, when you come to realize that you might want to consider shelving your WIP. What I failed to discuss, however, was how to know when the time to shelve your novel has arrived.

In my experience, there isn't ever one definite sign that you need to shelve your WIP —instead, it's often a combination of signs plus a sprinkle of instinct that generally lets you know that now would be a good time to move on to a new WIP.

While this is far from a comprehensive list, here are a few signs that it might be time to shelve your novel and start writing something new.

  1. You've edited your WIP to your best ability and it's still not working. "Not working" can mean a couple of things—for those who seek traditional publication, it can mean that you can't find representation for it despite massive editing and feedback from others. "Not working" can mean that your beta readers still think it needs more work, or it can mean that you're still not happy with it. Whatever the case may be, this sign can be a pretty big red flag.

  2. You've lost interest in your novel. This tends to be something we writers don't like to admit, but it is perfectly possible to lose interest in your WIP. While this doesn't always mean you need to shelve your work (sometimes you just need to fall in love with it again, which is also possible), it can be a good indication that it might be time to take a break from your novel and start writing something else—at least for the time being.

  3. You have ideas for new WIPs. This is a tricky one, because you don't want to confuse it with Shiny New Idea Syndrome, which is a pretty common writing danger that you should be wary of. The difference, you see, is that Shiny New Idea Syndrome hits when you're in the middle of another WIP, and it tempts you to begin writing your new idea immediately. What I'm referring to, instead, is when you've completed a previous WIP (the one that you're now contemplating shelving) and you've along the way collected idea for future novels.

  4. You're wondering if it's time to shelve your novel. When I said that instinct plays into this one, this is what I meant. We writers usually have a good sense for when something isn't working, or when something with our writing is off. And when we do, it's often when we begin to contemplate if maybe it's time to start something else—and you know what? Sometimes it is.

The thing I'd like you guys to understand about shelving your work is that it doesn't have to be permanent. Shelving your novels doesn't mean that you're giving up—it means that you're accepting that it's not quite the right time for your novel at the moment. That's it. It doesn't mean you're a failure, or that your WIP is a failure, or that it'll never see the light of day again (although, you may later on decide that you don't want it to see daylight again)—it just means that it's time to move on.

And that's ok.

Go ahead and write another WIP—hell, go write three or four more. I guarantee that with each novel you write, you will at the very least continue to refine your writing skills, and at the most, end up with a nice collection of wonderful writings to choose from.

What do you think? For those of you who have shelved novels in the past, how did you know it was time? For those that haven't, have you ever contemplated shelving a novel? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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