What Should You Do With All Your Unfinished Projects?
An embarrassing novel I published as a teenager has taught me a lot about unfinished work
When I was fifteen, I started writing my own novel on the website, Wattpad. If you aren’t familiar with Wattpad (and I suggest you stay unfamiliar with it), it’s a site that allows anybody over the age of thirteen to publish their stories on the site for free and share them with other Wattpad users.
Wattpad isn’t a small production by any means — some of the most popular stories have millions of reads and go on to get published for real. One Wattpad author’s insanely popular Harry Styles fanfiction even landed its own movie deal and will hit theaters this year.
What stops most authors from considering Wattpad to be a serious publishing platform is its audience. Most of the stories are written by teenage girls who intend other teenage girls to read them. In a sea of lazily written fanfiction and high school fantasies, there aren’t a lot of stories that could make it to bookshelves. Browsing through Wattpad is like taking a stroll through the back of the 99-cent clearance section at the book store — only with a lot more grammar mistakes and typos.
Still, it’s one of the only places online that allows people — specifically teenage girls — to express themselves without judgment. It was, for a long time, a site that I chose to express myself on.
I discovered Wattpad when I was fourteen. Back then, I gobbled up all the poorly-written teen fiction and cheesy werewolf stories I could find. And, when I got bored of reading it, I decided to try my hand at writing it.
At fifteen, I started publishing my own werewolf story — which, was technically a werewolf parody story, but that didn’t make it any less corny. Of course, I didn’t think it was cheesy then. I thought my cringy dialogue and senseless plot were a masterpiece.
Because Wattpad allows authors to upload their stories by chapter, users would find my story, read it, and patiently wait for the next update. By the time I had written and published ten chapters of the book, I’d begun cultivating my own tiny following. Somewhere out there was a band of teenage girls who liked my book enough to continue reading each new update.
As time went on, I stopped updating as frequently. With the demands of high school and my social life, finding the time to sit down and write 3,000–4,000 words for free wasn’t easy. I lacked the passion to continue my story, but I kept writing it out of loyalty to my followers.
Not to mention, as I got older, I started to realize just how cringe-worthy my book really was. It wasn’t even good enough to make it into the 99-cent clearance section at the bookstore.
Currently, my novel still remains published and unfinished on Wattpad. It’s hasn’t been updated in over a year, but I still get messages from people inquiring about new updates. With my stomach twisted in knots, I tell them not to hold their breath because I may never update again.
Saying that — while knowing I’m disappointing myself and others — isn’t easy for me to do, but the reality is that I’ve changed as a writer. I’m no longer the fifteen-year-old girl who wanted to write a cheesy werewolf romance.
And I’m okay with that.
I know I’m not the only one with half-finished projects that clog up my computer space (although hopefully, yours was never posted online for the world to see).
We all have unfinished work collecting cobwebs. And, although we may have moved on to bigger and better things, the ghosts of our half-finished projects still occasionally haunt us — so, what are we supposed to do with them?
Give it a second glance
Although I stopped writing my own novel because I was busier, there were still plenty of opportunities I could’ve used to sit down and work on it. I was busy, but I was also uninspired.
There are a lot of reasons we abandon our work, but most of them boil down to a lack of inspiration. Somewhere along the line, we lost our passion for the project and tossed it aside.
When we stumble over these half-finished tasks again, it’s tempting to hit the delete button or get rid of them. After all, nobody wants to be haunted by their failure.
But, before you head for the garbage can, I urge you to give your work a second glance. Just because you lost passion for the project doesn’t mean it isn’t worth finishing. That half-baked science fiction novel could be a best-seller in the making, and all you need is a little boost of inspiration to get you started again.
But, even if your work is less than impressive (and you still want to trash it after giving it a second glance), there is another reason you want to give your unfinished projects a thorough look-over.
No matter what your skill may be, you’ll find that you can recognize change and growth in old work. The cheesy dialogue and faulty plot in my own novel feel like the creation of a completely different person. And, in a sense, it is — I’m no longer fifteen-years-old and dreaming of a werewolf to whisk me away.
I can even see a significant difference in some of my early articles on Medium. I know that, given the chance, I’d rewrite them in a completely different way.
Looking over old, unfinished projects is a reminder of how far you’ve come. That short story you started writing at eighteen is a far cry from the work you’re producing now. The past might be amateurish, cringy or down-right hard to stomach, so it’s okay to have a few laughs at your old stuff.
Erase the guilt and move on
Looking at unfinished work can sometimes make you feel like a failure. Half-finished projects aren’t satisfying.
If you have trouble finishing anything you do, that’s another issue — but the occasional uncompleted project is nothing to lose sleep over. It’s okay not to finish everything you start.
In fact, fixating on one task because you feel like you have to complete it is not a good idea — not only could it stop you from starting something better, but the end result probably won’t be great. A forced, passionless project is a waste of time. If an old idea sparks new inspiration, that’s great — but some projects just aren’t worth finishing.
Contrary to popular belief, old work isn’t useless. Some of it may be worth reworking, but if nothing else, it can remind us of how far you’ve come. There is always a sense of guilt attached to uncompleted work, but you shouldn’t let it consume you. A dated project is representative of the past, and you’re not always the same person you used to be.
In my case, I don’t have any intention of finishing my werewolf novel, but I also won’t delete it. As embarrassing as it may be, it’s an undeniable part of my history. I’m no longer that naive, Twilight-inspired teenager, but I don’t mind laughing at her every once and awhile.