This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss how they decide to not continue with a project and the factors influence their decisions.


Crys: Hello, and welcome to the Author Life Podcast. I’m your host Crys Cain with my co-host J Thorn.

J: Hello, Crys.

Crys: Hi. Again, still batch recording, as we do now. And so we’re gonna move right on into our question. And this was something that came up in one of our small group conversations from our community. And that is — I’ve given it the delightful question of how do you ditch a project — but probably the more accurate phrase is like, how do you decide to not continue with a project?

J: So much more positive that way.

Crys: And yeah, we’ve both dealt with this a lot of times, not just in writing, and there’s always that question. You’re a big fan of Seth Godin’s The Dip, and the thing about the dip is that everybody hits the dip. It’s when the enthusiasm for the project is faded, you feel like it’s very difficult to keep going, you’re not sure if you should.

And only the projects that succeed make it through the dip. But not every project that keeps pushing is going to make it through the dip. But the only way to get through the dip is to keep pushing. So you gotta figure out like, what projects do I keep pushing through the dip? And which ones do I say these are just holding me back and they’re not worth it anymore?

J: This is such a difficult situation to be in, and we all find ourselves in it at one point or another. I’m in one right now, literally this week, and I’ve set a project aside. Yeah, there’s no single answer. There’s no sort of test that you can take to determine whether you should ditch your project or keep going.

I will say for me, in my experience, sometimes I create these Phantom expectations. I don’t know where they come from, I mean, they come from me, but I don’t know like why I think they come from somewhere else. And we’re not talking about resistance or writer’s block, we’re not talking about like, well you’re stuck on a project and so you’re just gonna walk away from it. That’s not what I mean here.

I think what we’re talking about here is that you’re into a project and you’re just like, I’m just not enjoying this, I don’t feel like I’m doing good work here. The reason I think that’s problematic is that if you’re feeling it creating it, even if you finished it, that’s the energy that someone’s gonna use to consume it. Like that, it sounds woo woo, but it happens. If your energy’s not into it, then it’s not gonna translate.

So for me, like I have to step back and I have to like question my Phantom expectations. Especially when you’re independent author, like if you’re not beholden to a publishing company or a contract, then why are you doing it? It’s probably because you determined for some reason that you should. I think the realization I came to is that I can determine that I shouldn’t anymore too.

This particular project I was working on, just I wasn’t feeling it, I wasn’t enjoying it. I knew I had weeks, if not months, ahead of me that I was gonna have to work on this. And I just said no, and I thought, who’s expecting this? No one. Like I put this expectation on myself that this is a book I had to write, and this is something I had to publish. And I don’t know, when I pulled back the curtain, there was no one standing there. There was no one wagging a finger at me. There was no one demanding this particular title.

So that’s been my experience. How have you dealt with it when you hit that moment?

Crys: I do wanna say that those feelings of not enjoying a project are not always reflective of the quality, because I’ve had plenty of projects that I’ve felt that way, specifically writing projects, that end up being fan favorites. And so, one, never tell a reader that the project you wrote was a drudge because I had that happen to me. My favorite book by a writer, they referenced it in a keynote they gave or something as being the most painful worst book of their career, and literally was my favorite. And so I haven’t been really able to read them again because of just that negative energy they put on their book after the fact, like decades after I read it.

And that’s a little side note. But I think a large part of it is, like one of the keys you said, who’s waiting for this? If people are waiting for it, there’s a different level of balances you need to go through to decide whether you should continue on the project or not.

I had a book that I was dreading writing. It was the third in a trilogy. This was with the co-writer that like the relationship blew up and another co-writer, there were three of us writing the first two books. And I dreaded writing the third book, even though at that point, like we’d arranged things that the co-writer that blew up was not going to be part of it. It was just gonna be me and the co-writer who were writing well together. But we honestly had so much tiny T trauma over writing the first two books, like I had panic attacks writing the second book because of having to interact with this author.

So we put it off for forever, but people were expecting it. People really wanted it. And we also just wanted to finish it out so that people would stop asking us about it. So we did finish that one.

The ones that I’ve let go have always been ones where no one is waiting for it. I work really good on like that tiny bit of guilt and expectation from external sources. It’s not really healthy, but I work well on it. But when something isn’t working, whether it’s I like it but I don’t have time, or I like it but it’s not working out, I’m not doing it the right way. A lot of times I will just chalk that up to a learning time, a learning experience. It’s not wasted time, like I learned something from it, I get to apply it to new things. And I let it go.

No one else knew it was gonna happen, or very few people did. And the few people that did aren’t gonna care if it doesn’t happen. And I’ve let it go. And some of them are like sitting in boxes where I’m like, maybe someday I’ll pick that up or I’ll steal pieces from it, but right now I don’t have any plans for that. That’s just gonna sit there.

J: Interesting. Yeah. Yeah. It’s funny how those external expectations appear outta nowhere.

Crys: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And I think a big key is just letting yourself, for those of us who feel pressure to complete everything we start, just letting ourselves say, I’m not a terrible person, I’m not a failure if I choose not to complete this. I successfully did the work I already did on it. I succeeded at that. I am choosing to not go any further.

J: Yeah.

Crys: And that’s just for some of us, that’s such a hard process. It gets easier every time you do it, but every time it’s still a struggle to get to that point where you can even recognize that that’s an option.

J: Yeah, because it’s even one of those things where even if it’s sunk cost fallacy, it still bothers you. You’re still like, but I’ve invested in this and I’ve already put X number of hours into it. That shouldn’t matter, but it does. It does. It’s hard to fight that.

Crys: Yeah. My question for our listeners is: what projects — or have you had projects — you don’t have to say them if that’s gonna trigger your brain. Have you had projects that you have decided to set aside that were no longer a fit for where you wanted to go? Whether it’s in publishing or any kind of endeavor, we’d love to know. We’d love to commiserate with you.

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