How many unfinished manuscripts do you have? If it's a ton, you're not alone.

It has almost become routine.

Get a great idea — this is the one! Jot it down. Make notes. Wait until you’re at your computer, and then type away, cranking out as many details as you can remember from the initial burst of inspiration. This is the one that will make my writing known.

And then, about two weeks and ten thousand words later…a new great idea! Scratch that old one, this new one is where I need to focus my writing energy.

It’s cyclical. Until one day you manage to snap the cycle and actually finish a manuscript — which has happened to me three times. How many not-quite-finished or was-once-a-great-idea-until-it-wasn’t-anymore drafts do I have saved on my computer? Dozens. A good fifteen or twenty for every book I completed. You can do the math: we’re probably talking about 50 or so.

That’s just the way it goes.

Does the process discourage me? At first, sure, it did. When you have yet to complete anything and you feel like you are wasting your time, it’s far from encouraging. It’s a rollercoaster. Best idea ever! Nevermind. Oh, new best idea ever! Hmm…

But after a while you come to realize that no writing is wasted. Your memory will draw upon your past work — for better or worse. Maybe it truly was a great idea and there are parts of the unfinished draft that you can use in your new project. Or maybe you learned the way not to craft an opening scene.

Take what you can from everything that you write. Make each word worth writing. Make each page better than the previous.

And when you feel like giving up, stop yourself. You never know how close you are to that diamond in the sand. Keep digging.

19 thoughts on “How many unfinished manuscripts do you have? If it's a ton, you're not alone.

  1. Got more than a few floating around. What surprising is some of them are all but polished and ready to go. I’ve a Science Fiction series I started years ago, the manuscripts all exist in rough draft, and are just waiting for a final rewrite/edit.

    Others exist as chapter or two, two of which will be a Prequel to the Lawman (that one is called “Echoes” and follows the six friends as they investigate a strange incident during the Gulf War) and the other is a sequel called “Family Secrets” which brings Will Diaz face to face with some of the more unsavory elements of his own family leaving him with a choice to make, Which is more important, Blood or the Law. I suppose time and energy will see which one get’s finished first.

    One good thing however about having unfinished stuff lying about. If you don’t know what to write, you can always dust it off, and start on it. Maybe sometime next year, I’ll revisit my Sci-Fi world and see if it takes flight.

    1. Exactly! Just because it’s been “scrapped” doesn’t mean it’ll be in the drawer forever. There’s usually at least a part of an old draft that can be applied to a new project.

  2. Great post. (I have 16 btw) It’s nice to know I’m not the only one. Even having them all on the same computer would be a step forward. The thing is to get better organized. I heard that Neil Simon had a desk with 20 drawers, an unfinished play in each one. I have notes on scraps of paper, in files, in spiral books, looseleaf books, and daily planners. George Carlin write his book ‘Brain Droppings’ from all the little Post-it notes he wrote random joke ideas on. I finally bought 20 looseleaf books and built a shelf, labeled all the books with the titles. I need to be able to grab the right book when a thought comes to mind, or stick those loose scribblings into the appropriate book. Paper works better for me. If I have to wait to start up the computer it’s too late, ir if I see a notification from Facebook I’m off in another direction. But all the projects get tweaked over the years and wind up getting better than they would have been if they were just banged out in 30 days. Thanks for your post!

  3. Depends what you mean by “unfinished manuscripts.” If you include short stories, poetry and nonfiction articles as well as novels, I’ve got a whopping 252 drafts, going back 15 years. I never delete anything I’ve written, ever. I even still have a creative writing project I did in high school (it is awful). To echo what you said in reply to another comment, you can always scrap old projects for parts. My first novel contained a hodgepodge of ideas, characters and turns of phrase extracted from my decade-plus corpus of failed writings. Somehow I clobbered it together and made it work. Lesson learned: don’t delete anything you write, as you might find it valuable later.

  4. Reblogged this on and commented:
    For me, it’s not so much that I have the unfinished stuff that I’ve given up on. It’s the unfinished stuff that’s waiting in a queue for me to finish the stuff I’m doing and start on them…

  5. I have four in process now, and five more with notes and ideas. I rotate them when I get stuck so that I always have something going. The down side is that I wind up with several finished at once and then a long time before anything else is ready.

  6. I always finish each idea into a full novel draft before allowing the next to emerge. But I recently interrupted my series editing to publish a stand alone that was completely different. It took me over a month of very hard work to get back into the story and series arc of my first project, so I think I learned my lesson. I need to stay in the world of one group of characters at a time to be efficient in my writing. That said, it was a great break, and I’m super excited and re-energized, to have a new release during my 5 book dedicated schedule for Miss Livingstone’s series. Maybe it was worth it?

  7. I relate to this more than I’d like to admit. I have a ton of names for characters in my stories and I’ve come up with the beginning of a chapter but I always seem to have a block when I open up Microsoft. This managed to spoke to me on a personal level. I loved it.

  8. I’m a story teller and stories are all around. They start where they start: place, person, object, plot … So I accepted long ago that I could never craft all these stories into finished pieces. Yet they pester me for attention. So I created my ‘Inchoate Ideas’ file. I draw from this file twice a month for my blog site: “Strange Things Done” … thank you for subscribing. Look forward to more of your thoughts … BTW I’m a fellow Yooper.

Thoughts?