What Does DNF Mean and When Should You Do It?

If you’ve been in the bookish community for a minute, you may have heard the acronym “DNF.” (Not to be confused with the acronym DTF… which is a very, very different thing…) What does DNF mean and, most of all, WHEN and WHY should you do it? 

Let us find out!

what does DNF mean?

Plain and simple, DNF stands for “did not finish.” So in this case, it’s when you don’t finish a book. The frequency varies from person to person–some readers are extremely prone to DNF (*ahem* yours truly) and others will power through even the most banal of prose like a half-eaten burrito. It really depends on your personality, your tolerance levels, and your purposes for reading.

But if, like me, your primary purpose for reading is to be entertained, then you’re probably likely to bail due to pure boredom. But there are other reasons to DNF a book, too, so if you’re wondering whether you should pull the plug on your current read, check it against this list!

1. is it interesting?

Come on, be honest with yourself. Do you want to read the next sentence, the next page, the next chapter? Or do you have to force yourself?

Maybe there are times you have to force yourself, like if you’re reading a really dense, complicated book or you’re at a point in the middle where it’s kind of at a lull, but overall, are you interested in what you’re reading? It’s something only you can answer but it’s worth asking yourself.

2. do you like the writing style?

There are so many different writing styles out there, and for good reason. Not everyone likes every type of writing. Are you more attracted to flowery, descriptive writing, or pithy, action-packed writing?

Remember, it’s okay to like the simpler stuff! Or the more complicated stuff! Everyone is different, which is why there are so many different styles out there to choose from. If the writing style just doesn’t resonate with you, then maybe you’re better off finding something else that does.

3. do you connect with the main characters?

Well, do you? I think there’s a different between a character who is flat and a character with whom you just don’t connect. Not that you have to relate with every single aspect of the character, but do you feel emotionally invested in him or her? Do you care what happens to them? Do you understand their goals, their desires, why they do what they do?

If you feel apathetic towards the protagonist, then you’ll probably have a hard time caring about what happens to them throughout the story.

4. does it make you uncomfortable?

This is an important question that you gotta get honest about. Does the subject matter make you uncomfortable, or disturb you, or make you nauseous? Everyone has their limits, and there’s a difference between reading something uncomfortable that you can stomach versus something you can’t.

And I’m not just talking about sex or violence–abuse and mental illness counts, too. No one’s judging here. You know yourself and what you can handle. I’ve DNF’ed a lot of books because they crossed a mental line for me. So don’t feel like you’re weak for putting down a book because you feel mentally unsound while reading it. That’s not weak. That’s brave. 

5. is it below/above your reading level?

It’s not uncommon to have a little pride about reading… which means that if you’re reading something above your reading level, you may be reluctant to give up on it and thus suffer through it even when it’s frustrating.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with reading something a little intellectually challenging from time to time, and neither is the vice versa–reading something easy. But if you’re too confused or too bored for too long, and it’s not the subject matter itself, you may want to consider if it’s the writing as a whole that’s tripping you up. 

6. do you feel like it’s worth your time and energy?

This one can be a tough one to identify because it’s so individual. Some people are willing to invest in a big, 800-page epic fantasy or a ten-book series because that’s what they like and it’s worth it to them.

But if anything you’re reading has started to become a chore, where you don’t look forward to reading it, you’re just trudging along out of some arbitrary obligation, then you’re most likely wasting your time.

7. are you learning new things?

You may not be out to get an education when you pick up something like a science-fiction novel. After all, for most people, reading is escapism. But let’s not forget that some of us like to read non-fiction, and some of us like to study the craft of writing as a whole.

This means that no matter what you’re reading, you can ask yourself what you’re learning. If that was your goal at the start and you’re not achieving it, then maybe it’s time to DNF. But if you’re just there to have some fun and escape for a bit, then maybe this question doesn’t apply to you. It’s a case-by-case basis sort of thing.

8. is it due back at the library soon??

This is my number one problem with reading in general… they’re always due back at the library too soon! And I have, on more than one occasion, maxed out my renewals… which feels like cheating, somehow, especially if there’s someone waiting for the book.

And even though library fines are not necessarily going to break anyone’s bank, they can be an incentive to finish a book.

So this may seem a little too mathematical (and I don’t know about you, but I’m not one for the maths), but it sometimes helps to divide the number of pages in the book by how many days left you have to read it. That way, you know exactly how much you have to get through in order to get it finished before it’s due back to the library.

And if the page count is too many per day, well… how many renewals you got left?

9. would you own it? 

This is perhaps an unfair question, because I’m sure there are plenty of books that you like but wouldn’t own simply because they are either a) expensive or b) not a book you feel you’d read very often.

But it may help sway your opinion to DNF or not DNF a book, especially if you really do need to return that book to the library and know you don’t have enough time left to finish it. If you feel like you’d be willing to own it, then you can buy it and read it at your leisure. If you don’t feel that way, then maybe it’s not worth finishing after all.

This is probably a way-too-in-depth analysis of whether you should or shouldn’t DNF a book, but if you ever find yourself torn within the depths of your reading conscience, then hopefully asking yourself questions such as these will help you to gain some clarity and master the art of bailing! 

Image by Krisztina Papp from Pixabay

4 responses to “What Does DNF Mean and When Should You Do It?”

  1. I had no idea what DNF meant, thanks for enlightening me! Haha

    1. Haha you’re welcome! I’m glad I could actually say something helpful! XD thanks for reading!

  2. […] What is DNF? “DNF” stands for “did not finish,” which obviously means that you bailed in the middle of the book. Some readers are more prone to DNFing than others. Personally, I think I’ve DNFed more books in recent years than finished them. And I used to feel really bad about it–I used to strive and strain, max out my library renewals, or try to cram it in in the last few days. But here’s the thing: it’s okay to DNF a book, especially when you’re just not into it. A good rule of thumb is to have a cut-off limit: fifty pages, a hundred pages, one chapter, two chapters… and if the book doesn’t grab and hold your attention by then, if you can’t commit to it by that point, then give yourself permission to DNF it. […]

  3. […] outcomes occurs: either I have to keep reading to get to that part or it’s spoiled for me and I DNF. For shame, for […]

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