There are many reasons to stop working on a story. You may have run out of ideas. You may have recognized that the message and the medium don’t match. Another story has come barreling into your consciousness and you feel you must work on that. Another way of saying what you meant to say has come to you and you are compelled to follow that thought. And I have also heard, “I’ve spent a lot of time on this already,” throwing poor “time” under the bus. I didn’t realize there was a time limit.
A published author was once asked, “How long does it take you to write a picture book?” Her answer was, “It depends. Some take a month, some take three months, some take three years. In other words, they take as long as they take.” And time you’ve already spent creating cannot be one of the reasons why you abandon a book.
I understand that time is a special commodity. For parents who work out of the home or in, sometimes the only time you have to work on a book is after the work is all done and the kids are in bed. And time becomes a balancing act. Should I work on something that’s just not coming or should I put my time against something that’s working out just beautifully? This is a decision every writer has to make. If a manuscript is giving you trouble, don’t claim time’s up and abandon it. Time shouldn’t be the excuse. Simply put it away and let it age. Your back burner brain will be working on it. You can always come back to it later. And maybe when age has had its way with it you may realize what a dumb idea it was or what a great idea it was and you’ll put more time against it.
Or you may simply realize that for whatever reason this story just isn’t going to work the way you hoped. I was trying to write a story about a rainbow. But my treatment goes against the whole world’s concept of rainbows as being miraculous, joyous, hopeful things. And as much as I think my story is funny and clever, I don’t think anyone would buy it. Too irreverent. I may have put a lot of time against this story and its many revisions, but I would never say I won’t work on it anymore because of the time spent. It was well spent. It was time spent learning the craft of writing picture books in general rather than that story in particular.
Time is not the excuse. Theme, structure, plot, character development, tone. These are the reasons a story works or doesn’t work and if these elements aren’t working then they are the proper “excuses” for abandoning a story.