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The Hack’s Guide to Breaking Up With Your Book

Hacks for Hacks (sense of humor required)

Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

All books must end—some before they’re finished. Writing a book is hard, and no matter how experienced or successful you get, there will always be times you want to quit. Perseverance is a wonderful trait, but there comes a time in many authors’ lives when a project becomes an albatross that gets in the way of their artistic growth, and they would be best served by writing a different book.

The bond between you and your book is full of highs and lows, laughter and tears, just like any other codependent relationship. Deciding to move on with your writing life is one of the hardest choices you can make as an author, but it can also be the most liberating. The writing-advice columnist Code of Conduct prohibits me from deciding this for you, but it does allow (and encourage!) me to enable your questionable decisions. So if you feel stuck and need to cut ties with your work-in-progress, here are several approaches to breaking up with your book.

It’s not you, it’s me.

The most obvious, bottom-of-the-barrel approach. You are the author. The book is your work. Of course it’s you. You may have convinced yourself that “It’s not you, it’s me” worked on your high-school sweetheart, but your guilty conscience won’t let you get away with doing this to the memoir you’ve been toiling over for the last few years. You’re going to have to work harder than that to come up with a good rationale—but then again, if you were into hard work, you wouldn’t be abandoning this book, would you?

(Was that unfair? You bet it was. That was your book talking; books don’t like to get dumped, so it may tell you some things you don’t want to hear.)

I’ve met someone else.

photo by Dennis Skley

You’ve had some great times working on this novella for the last six years, but then came this new idea. You swear you only meant to write a quick outline so you wouldn’t forget it, but then one thing led to another. You can’t remember the last time you felt this energized. Well, you can—it was when you started your old book, back before everything went wrong in Chapter 10. And deep down, you’re worried you’ll just keep doing that for every book you write. You look into the future and see a dozen first chapters and false starts of books that failed to materialize, and you lie awake at night convinced you will never finish any work you start because something in your soul is fundamentally, irretrievably broken. As your advice columnist, let me gently remind you that you’re a writer, and that having a fundamentally broken soul has never been considered a handicap in our vocation.


The honorable thing to do when you realize your book isn’t working is to print what you have, put the pages into a box, set it on fire, put the ashes into a different box, and put that box on a high shelf underneath the crate of random cables you haven’t unpacked for three consecutive moves. That’s called closure. But some writers take the coward’s way out and simply cease writing their book. Worst of all, their utter lack of conscience allows them to not feel guilty about it. Without guilt, are they even writers?! I mean, what’s next? Just stopping writing altogether and using their newly acquired free time to develop new hobbies and rewarding friendships? Going outside once in a while? Spending more time with their spouse and children? Spending their vacation days relaxing instead of effectively working a second job they don’t get paid for? What a horrible thought. What kind of monster would do such a thing?

Ever had to break up with your book? How did you do it? Share your stories and advice in the comments.

About Bill Ferris [2]

After college, Bill Ferris [3] (he/him) left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.