Oddly enough, I started my writing journey with a failed story.
Weird, right? I tell people all the time that the only way to fail as a writer is to quit. I fully believe that every story has potential, and the worst habit a writer can get into is dumping their current work-in-progress for a shiny new idea.
And yet, that’s how I started. I had a story (of sorts) in progress. I liked the idea. It had some kind of potential. It had a plot, and characters, and a world that I genuinely enjoyed.
But it was a complete dud.
Why? I can come up with a hundred reasons, most of them revolving around cliche plot lines, my own pitiful writing abilities at the time, and a lack of dedication.
But the real trouble came from the characters.
See, I knew everything about my characters. I knew their names, what they liked, what they didn’t like. I had a backstory for them, I knew their family connections, I knew everything about them.
But I didn’t know them. And it killed my story.
Just about that same time, when I was still slogging through pages of this story and rewriting bits of it over and over again in an attempt to make it interesting, someone else slipped into my head and introduced herself.
She didn’t even tell me her name in the beginning. I called her all sorts of things. And, worse still, she didn’t even have a story. Somehow, she just wiggled her way into every mental story I had going, most of the time without being invited.
I couldn’t get her out of my head.
Then, the night before I was leaving for a trip, her story appeared. And I spent the next several months writing it out in the notes on my iPod touch. I couldn’t type fast enough. Really, it wrote itself in those first days, and I hung on and tried to keep up.
Now, seven years later, I have five books written. Two are fully edited, and one is currently with a plethora of agents and editors in hoped of finding a publisher.
All due to a failed story that I gave up on.
Letting go of a story—however hard—is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s the best thing, a sacrifice that will launch you forward instead of holding you back and chaining you to bad habits.
The trouble is, how to tell the difference?
Here are five ways to judge whether you’re giving up or moving on. (And believe me, those are two very different things.)
1) Decide if you’ve grown past it.
As writers, we are always growing. Sometimes our stories grow with us and sometimes they don’t. (I’ve experienced both.) Looking back, I had passed my first story by. The characters were too wooden to teach me anymore, the plot didn’t drive me forward, and the world was too limited.
If I wanted to keep growing, I had to move on.
2) Be honest about why you want to move on.
Are you stuck? Are you buried in plot holes and character arguments? Would it be so, so much easier to move on to this new idea without any of the problems?
Then it might not be time to move on quite yet.
Every story has snarls. And plot holes. And gaps. Mending those gaps is what teaches and grows us as writers. If we give up when it gets hard, we’ll find it exceptionally difficult to finish a story—any story.
Move on if you must. But do it because you know the story isn’t right for you any more, not because you doubt your abilities as a writer. Anything can be fixed. You are endlessly brilliant with an unlimited amount of imagination and options. Don’t quit because you doubt yourself.
3) Give it time.
Rushed decisions—especially when they are emotionally charged—aren’t always the best. Take a week off from writing if you’re frustrated and blocked, and really think about whether you’re willing to leave this story behind. You’ve put a lot of work and effort into this story. Do you really want to put that aside?
Time heals all wounds, they say. So give yourself a week—or even two or three—to consider whether your desire to move on is genuine, or fueled by frustration.
4) Ask for advice.
Have a person. Someone who knows you and knows your writing. Someone who has a little more perspective than you might have, especially now. An outside perspective can sometimes make all the difference in the world—and shock you.
Perspective is everything, dearest writer. And sometimes, in the midst of edits, rewrites, and plot holes, it’s very hard to keep a good perspective on your own work.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
5) Keep writing.
One story is not your creative limit. You’ve got stories ahead of you, characters you have yet to meet, and worlds that are waiting for you to bring them to life with your words.
Only you can decide if a story is finished.
Only you can drive your career forward and master your craft.
Giving up on your story because it’s gotten too hard or you don’t have the patience to finish will not develop your skills as a writer.
Moving past a story because you’ve grown out of it and you need a fresh start will develop your skills.
It’s up to you to decide which you’re facing, and what you’ll do about it. You don’t have to explain your decisions to anyone or feel guilty about them, but you do have to accept the results, good or bad.
Make sure the results are ones that you will be happy with later.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.