11 Things to Do With a DNF Writing Project


A few months ago, I learned about the term DNF, Did Not Finish, in the context of reading books. It’s when someone loses interests in a book they’re reading and never makes it to the end.

Funny thing is, we writers have this DNF experience with our own writing. Don’t we?

I know I’ve amassed a pile of DNF writing projects over the years. I just added to it again last month, which is probably why this has been on my mind.

From my previous post, Our Stories Are Like Socks, where I discussed the oddball similarities between socks and stories…

“Don’t get stuck on a story that’s the wrong fit, that has holes, and is sagging at key points. Even if you’ve tried to mend it, patch it, or hold it up with story suspenders, there comes a point when you know that there’s no saving it.”

So the question is: What do we do with a project once we realize there’s no saving it? Once we’ve transferred it from the illustrious FPP, Future Pulitzer Prize, pile to the DNF pile?

We pull our hair in disgust, curse the gods of Writer’s Luck, have our fill of Dunkin Donuts, then wash them down with copious amounts of Cheetos.

Sorry, that was about me.

And it was the wrong answer. Entirely. Ahem and carrying on…

Here are 11 things to do with a DNF writing project:

  1. Don’t feel disappointed. Not every project will stick. And that’s okay. There are more ideas to tap from the creative well.
  2. Skim through the project one last time and pick out something you liked. Even if it’s something as small and simple as a nice turn-of-phrase. Remember how it made you feel.
  3. Did you like a specific character? Work him or her into another project. Even consider using the same name.
  4. Pull out the trope, plot twist, or Aha! moment and use it in another piece.
  5. Capture some witty lines of dialogue or banter that worked well. Transfer them to a new project.
  6. Use the title for another manuscript. Chuck the rest.
  7. Identify one or two things that didn’t quite work. (No more than two, please. It’s a slippery slope.) Tuck that information away. If the issue rears its head again while writing another piece, you’ll recognize it more easily.
  8. Create a folder for the project, print or electronic, and give the folder a great name. (E.g., Stuff I Wrote Before I Was Famous. Or: Someone Stole My Computer and Wrote This. Or: Literary Masterpiece of Poo.) The point is to make it a name that’ll give you a little chuckle.
  9. Consider it a really long writer’s prompt.
  10. Reward yourself. (Possibly with donuts and Cheetos. Just saying.) You recognized the fact that you needed to abandon ship. It means you’re growing more mature as a writer.
  11. And if you’re really wearing your big-girl pants, give the idea of the project to a writer-friend. Maybe they can do something with it that you couldn’t. They’d be sure to put you front and center of their Acknowledgements section, wouldn’t they? You might even become a muse or something. Fancy that.

Let me be clear, I do not recommend throwing in the towel on a project just because it’s gotten a little prickly to work with. This list is about what to do once you’ve rearranged the story upside-down, inside-out, and back again, and have finally decided to cut it loose.

It’s about stripping away the disappointment, self-doubt, and other negative stuff that may be attached to a DNF project.

It’s about turning it into an experience that’s productive, useful, and hopeful.

Do you have something to add to the 11 things above? Is there something from a recent DNF project that you’re going to use, or have used, in a new manuscript? 

Published by Rene Penn

Author. Blogger.

6 thoughts on “11 Things to Do With a DNF Writing Project

  1. I love this. Gleaning from those half-finished projects is an awesome idea! I have one that I’ve started over from scratch 3 times! Yes, 3 times! The heart if the story, the real climax and meat and potatoes of the story, I feel is a solid win. But the backstory stinks. I haven’t figured out how to fix it, but I keep trying! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad this struck a chord with you. 🙂 Oh, it sounds like you’re so super-close with your project. Keep trying on that back story. Keep running your characters through their G-M-Cs. Keep reading, too. Maybe something you read will resonate, and you can adopt a technique from a story that you like. Wishing you luck! –RP

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Ann Malley and commented:
    NaNoWriMo is over and done. 2018 is nearing its last hoorah. The time for setting 2019 goals is almost here. We writer’s NEED them.

    But, if you’re panicking about last year’s lovelies, those unfinished darlings more commonly called WIPs, don’t. The dreaded DID NOT FINISH doesn’t need to get you down.

    Check in with the always witty, René Penn, author of the Bachelorette Blogger serial for some perspective. Her light side approach to the dreaded DNF is sure to make you chuckle and help you . . .

    Write on!

    Liked by 1 person

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