Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story

3 Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story

Giving up on a story is kind of like giving up on a relationship. It hurts, it can make you feel like a failure, and it can leave the near future seeming like a pretty blank place. It seems like it’s an entirely negative experience. The only good thing about it is the sudden lack of all the bad things the experience was putting you through.

But sometimes giving up on a story is just plain necessary. Let’s face it: there are stories we will never make work no matter how much effort we pour into them. We love these stories. We believe in them. But for one reason or another, they’re just not destined to make it onto our success pile.

In the vast majority of instances, I’m going to be a proponent of sticking stories out until the end. Most stories are salvageable. A little knowledge, some time, and a lot of effort can help us find worth in even the messiest of first drafts. But there will be times when we’re better off just cutting our losses and moving on to the next story.

Why I’m Giving Up on One of My Stories

I finished the first draft of my historical novel The Deepest Breath in October 2011. From the start, it was a story I was deeply passionate about. I felt it had the chops to be better than even Behold the Dawn, my personal favorite of all my books. But, in all honesty, I bit off more than I could chew right from the get-go.

In my interest in experimenting with technique (present tense, a non-chronological timeline, and a more literary tenor), I lost sight of my true intent for the story right from the beginning. And I paid for it. The first draft was a nightmare to write, and I spent the next two years rewriting the heck out of it.

After the last rewrite, I realized something: although there is so much that is right about this story, its plot problems are so deeply entrenched that, in order to fix them, I would have to completely change the story. Rewrites I can always handle. But when a story gets so far away from you that it no longer resembles your true vision for it, you have to stop and reevaluate what you’re doing.

With a lot of thought and prayer and deep regret (but also a surprising amount of relief), I’ve made the decision not to proceed with the book. It won’t be published (although I may end up offering a free version on my website for those über-devoted readers who still want to read it).

This kind of decision is never going to be an easy one to make, but here are three of the reasons why I feel this is the right call for me to make for this story—and why you should perhaps give up on your story.

3 Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story

1. You’re Losing Focus

Stories on the page often turn out completely different from how we envision them in our heads. And that’s okay. Sometimes they even turn out better than we originally imagined them. What’s not okay is when we wake up one morning and realize the story we’re currently writing has entirely lost its intended focus.

This is what happened to me. I lost sight of my intended story (about best friends who end up on opposite sides of a moral conflict) almost from the beginning. I got sucked into my research about World War I and my idea for a romantic triangle subplot. As a result, I ended up wrangling my plot into impossible corners that took the story in an entirely different direction from the one that had originally sparked my passion.

2. You Lack Passion for the Project

You can fix just about anything in a story as long as you care enough to expend the effort. I spent years working on my fantasy Dreamlander. It was anything but perfect when it rolled off the first-draft press. But I was passionate enough about it and determined enough to make it work that I stuck with it through more than five years of intense labor.

In contrast, when I was struck with the realization of how much The Deepest Breath’s story would have to change to bring it up to snuff, I also had to face the realization that I no longer possessed the passion and energy for this project. Continuing with it sounded exhausting and painful rather than exciting and stimulating.

If we don’t love what we’re doing, what makes us think we can inspire any kind of love in our readers? Certainly, we will have moments when we won’t enjoy the process or when we grow weary of spending so much time with a particular story. But we should always return to our work with a spark of energy and a vision of hope and determination for its future. Without that, we’re not only going to make ourselves miserable, we’re also highly unlikely to produce an end result worth reading.

3. Your Gut Says Stop

The gut knows. There were times when I would have loved to have just thrown up my hands and quit on Dreamlander. But something kept me going. Every time I considered stopping, my instincts started howling. Keep going! You can fix this story! You have to see this through!

On the other hand, when I made the decision to put The Deepest Breath away for good, the loudest response I got from my gut was a big sigh of relief.

Sometimes we need to force ourselves to do hard things—like edit that stupid draft for the zillionth time. But sometimes we just have to stop. Sometimes chasing our tails is the worst thing we can do. There will always be more stories to write. Sometimes we need to just go write them—and let our old ideas die gracefully.

Killing Your Darlings

The labor and love we invest in our stories will always make killing them difficult—even when death is the most merciful gift we can give them. It takes courage to admit, even to ourselves, that a story just isn’t working.

But how much better to admit that than to slog on with a story when we know, deep down, it’s going nowhere? We’ll spare ourselves the time, labor, frustration, and depression. We’ll spare our agents, editors, and readers from wasting their time and money. We’ll protect our authorial reputations as people who refuse to give our readers anything less than our best. And we’ll be able to move on to write better and bigger stories, thanks to the lessons we’ve learned from our past failures.

And here’s the best thing about these often sad experiences. They really aren’t failures. They’re just stepping stones. As Samuel Beckett said:

 Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

If you feel you’re writing a dead-end story, take a moment to evaluate your future with it. More likely than not, you’re going to keep on writing, edit your way to a fabulous book, and end your relationship with this story on a victorious note. But if it doesn’t quite work out that way—if you realize you need to move on—don’t count it as a failure. Close the file on your computer, take stock of what you’ve learned, and move on to write your next masterpiece.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever had to give up on a story?

3 Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story


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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Before reading this, I almost thought, “What author would advise people to give up,” but I can really see where you’re coming from. I’m almost thinking that one of the stories I’ve written is perhaps not something that I’ll publish. It’s there as a learning experience, but there’s not much plot development and I can’t figure out how to fix it. I think I’ll leave it as a learning experience and move onto better stories, but perhaps I can come back to it in the future.

    • I will say that there’s a huge difference between giving up on a story mid-draft and deciding to set it aside after several years of revisions. The first is a bad precedent, simply because it gets us in the habit of not finishing drafts. The latter is more likely to be a result of mature deliberation, made possible by a little objective time and distance from the first mad rush of writing.

  2. I have, even before I finished the first draft. I realized that writing Tolkien-imitating high fantasy was not my thing. Mainly because the world was what one would expect of a teenager with no prior experience trying to create a massive story world. Fixing the story would mean totally overhauling the entire storyworld and scrapping pretty much everything written.

    So I dropped and went writing sci-fi, where my passion was.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      This is a super-important point all its own. Too often, we start writing stories we really have no business writing. Before we ever sit down for the long haul with a story idea, we always need to evaluate whether or not we really possess the passion that will keep us interested in it for years of hard work.

  3. Bassam Ahmed says

    A very sad feeling that I had to go through A LOT. It’s like watching a dear one pass away after struggle with terminal pain.It’s pretty tough but what consoles you is knowing it is for the greater good.After all we owe bad decisions our success to come.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Nothing is ever lost. Every “bad” story we write is a positive experience in its own way. Better to hang onto that than to prolong that negative aspects by trying to keep it pointlessly alive.

  4. Steve Mathisen says

    I hate to see that happen to anybody. I have lost steam on a number of projects. I was waylaid by either more interesting stuff to work or it was temporarily set aside and just never wanted to go back to it. You talked about The Deepest Breath on a number of occasions and I was looking forward to reading it. I probably still will (understanding your disclaimer).
    Having read everything you have released to date, I know you will not release work that does not live up to your own expectations. I respect that.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      I do hate to disappoint readers, especially since I’ve been talking about Deepest for so long. But I have a sneaking feeling most readers would rather I keep a less-than-good book to myself rather than go ahead with it. I totally honor that.

  5. I agree. I have three full length novels (80k each), sitting on my harddrive, that I’ve just lost all passion for revising – yet again. I loved the characters, the umbrella storyline, but … it’s just not there. And not picking up the proverbial pen to rewrite leaves me nauseous.

    I felt bad at first, until I realized – they taught me a lot about writing, about characterization, plotting, and how dang hard writing is. And how much I loved it.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      It’s important to keep things in perspective. Why are we writing? If it’s all about publishing and selling books, then, yes, a failed story is always going to be a tremendously sad experience. But, as I’ve been reminding myself, I wrote the story, first and foremost, for myself. I got what *I* wanted out of the experience. That’s never going to be a shabby return.

  6. There is nothing more painful than giving up on a story. While I still have hopes to resurrect a story in hibernation, my focus now can’t be there at the moment. There are many days where I’d like to work with THOSE characters over the current crop, I know it just isn’t in the cards right now.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      We’re always saying, “Too many stories, too little time.” Life’s too short to labor over dying stories. Sometimes we just have to move on to the fresh blood.

  7. Oh no, Katie!!!!!!!!! Poor you, so much effort you’ve put in it.

    This happened to me once, but I gave up on the project at the level of its outline (half-through), it was an obvious flop, because it was purely a genre story that failed to appeal to me in the end.

    I can’t seriously imagine a story that works in the outline, wouldn’t work in the first draft? How come?
    Is this really lost passion or just exhaustion?

    My first project I was pantsing for 5 years, and spend 2 years on further editing. I was losing hope at times, yet I decided to make an outline and immediately saw how could be fixed.

    I mean a story is never really perfect and sometime it’s unruly and bigger than you, but I think every story can be either fixed or re-used at the level of outline. Especially in your case, with so much research and writing done.
    Katie, maybe you could collaborate with someone writing in this genre to try fixing it? I know I’m such an optimist. It’s just knowing how hard-working you are, I feel you may be a bit too self-critical.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      If I’m to pinpoint the ultimate root of the problem with this story, I’d have to say it *was* the outline. I got too ambitious and, as I said in the post, too intent on experimental techniques. I stopped listening to my gut. Had I been better in tune with my own story instincts, I never would have let that outline get off the starting blocks.

  8. Lorna G. Poston says

    Well, a mother knows what is best for her children, and a writer knows what is best for her characters and the story. If after much thought and prayer you feel you need to let it go, then that is the right decision. Sometimes holding on only makes things worse, not better, and letting go is the only thing we can do.

    God bless, and I’m looking forward to you next story! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland says

      As I say, there are still a ton of things I love about this story and I feel really do work. So who knows? Maybe they’ll show up later in entirely new (and better) manifestations!

  9. Great post. Giving up on a story is like giving up on a business that you’ve poured thousands of dollars into, though in the case of a story it’s thousands of hours. You want to make it work because of all the time that’s gone into it. That’s what makes it so difficult to give up on an idea. But the alternative is to even waste more time investing in something that’s just not meant to be, and something that might even cause you to miss out on the book that you were supposed to write.

  10. I gave up on the very first novel I tried to write, which was not an auspicious start to my writing career. But it had to be done – it had grown to utterly epic proportions, even by epic fantasy standards, and I really just wasn’t interested in continuing given that a new story idea had taken hold of me. The sad part was that even though it was flawed, I stopped writing literally one page and one chapter from the end, so I couldn’t even take pride in having completed the first draft.

    I do love the idea and characters from that novel, though. Some day, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I intend to take another stab at it now that I’m older and (hopefully!) I stronger writer.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Although the book I mention in the post has been completed (and rewritten all the way through several times) for years, I resonate with what you’re saying. In this last read through, I quit one chapter from the end. I could tell. It was done. It was time. And it felt very right.

  11. Thom Linehan says

    Years ago (30+) I wrote stories and tossed them in a box. Since retirement I have renewed my writing. Is it a passion? Don’t really know but I have too many stories dancing in my head, and saved on my computer to not write. Having a story that I have to totally put aside might be more than I would want to do.
    If it were me I’d re-outline it and then start pulling and picking it apart. Even if a 100,000 word story becomes a novella it’s better than letting it go.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      There comes a time when we have to identify and prioritize the demands upon our time. Right now, I have so many new stories clamoring for my attention that I feel compelled to expend my efforts on them. But if the day ever comes when I have no new ideas (horror of horrors!), I’ll definitely be digging back through the pile of not-quite-there manuscripts.

  12. I’ve thought of giving up many times but never have gotten to where my gut told me it was not worth going on. Not losing focus either, plotline and main characters intact despite many revisions. Passion for the subject has grown greater the more I research it and write about it. Conclusion is that I bit off a heck of lot to chew but can see a successful ending.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      As long as you know what to fix and can see a clear light at the end of the revision tunnel, there’s no reason *not* to keep going. Passion for a project and a confidence in the next set of revisions is all it takes to make a project worth pursuing, no matter how difficult it may currently be.

  13. Kay Anderson says

    This post is so true! I started a story that I thought had potential when I was 13. As I got older, the story got better some, but it never really fully connected. Too many things were happening, and the story was just too long. For eight years, I wasted time trying to get this ONE story done, time I could’ve used on my christian book series, my current work-in-progress. Who knows, maybe if I had I would’ve published and been almost done with the series by now. It really sucks. 🙁 But it’s okay. Because I have new, meaningful stories meant to inspire and encourage others that I’m passionate of to replace it.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      One thing I’ve discovered in my own writing life is that I can never truly see a book clearly until I’ve finished the next one. It’s incentive to keep working on new material even while I’m still brewing on the old.

    • Kay Anderson, what about a writing partner? What about hiring someone to help you steer your story and help it take the shape you want? That is what I am about to do now. We don’t always have to go it alone you know.

  14. Yes, as much as it hurt, I had to kick the first novel I wrote to the curb. I had it finished and proofread (not beta). I was aiming to publish it and looking for deeper critters to help me whip it into shape and learning the proper way to do things. In the meantime, I started another book and kept learning the ropes of novel writing and shopping to agents. But the more I read, the more I realized my story wasn’t really in a publishable state, and it helped me to do my story-in-progress correctly.

    Although there is so much I love about it, problems are too deep in the work. Like, I relied too much on coincidence that served to launch the character into specific directions, and I answered the story question about 70% of the way through when it should hold taut until at least the climax. The MC is also 19, which now with the birth of NA, is not so bad, but back then, it was a dead age in books. As-is, it just doesn’t work, and those aren’t easy things to fix. You can’t just change some words around, you have to get in and redo the whole plot structure and the story’s direction. The romance is so adorable and flirty, I’m not sure if readers would even really notice the flaws; my proofreaders didn’t and loved it with cheers. But I know that it’s not structurally sound. If you take one little thing out, it collapses like a house of cards. I may completely overhaul it someday, like take the main characters and their cute romance and plunk them into an entirely new story with some hints of the old, but I’m busy working on other books right now.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      That’s the thing: inspiration moves on. If I had no other stories calling for my attention right now, I would probably rip this current one into pieces and take the time to put it back together. But life rolls on, time runs out, and we just have to move on with it.

  15. This really resonated with me. It’s so hard to walk away from a book–you hit the nail on the head, it really is like ending a relationship. But I also think our gut really can tell when it’s the right thing to do. Giving up on one of my earlier books was a heart-wrenching experience, but if I hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have been able to write the book I *was* meant to write, and now that *that* book is finally a reality, I thank God every day I made the right call to abandon the first.

    As painful as this might be right now, the relief you feel must be telling you something. You’ve got many more fantastic stories ahead of you :).

    • K.M. Weiland says

      The great thing about hard decisions like this is that nobody says they have to be final. If we realize a few months down the road that we made a mistake, we can still give the old manuscript a call and see if it wants to do dinner or something.

  16. Yes. And it has always been because I started writing a story without a clear plan. This is precisely the reason that 2013 became the “year of story structure” for me. If I can get better at planning and outlining a story, I will not have spent a year writing three hundred pages only to have it fall apart at the end. The more detail I can put into the planning, the better chance I have of being successful. If we’re going to be professional writers, this is the approach we must take. Sometimes we have to scrap bad plans. But I’d rather scrap the plans than an antire project.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Preach it, brother! Structure brings so much to our writing, but not just in helping us create a solid finished product. The best part is how much easier it makes the early stages and how much doubt it can remove whenever we start wondering, “Is this working or not?”

  17. I don’t plan on quitting my novel altogether, but I will say that getting side tracked in silly details, and not thinking about the theme has been a problem from time to time, and I have to keep reminding myself what my true priorities are while still doing research and coming up with interesting elements. I hope everyone that is having problems with their stories can either fix them or move on to write something fresh and new.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Getting sidetracked – or just plain procrastinating – is always an easy trap to fall into. Writing is mentally strenuous, and our brains like to look for escape routes to avoid the work. We just have to keep disciplining ourselves to stop looking for shiny distractions and instead buckle down to our work.

  18. Funny you mention this. Just last week I did a total switcharoo on my next project. My hairdresser told me about this news story and BAM! I knew I had to write about it.

  19. I have given up on several stories, but only for a time. Sometimes the inspiration will come back after reading it again. So I don’t completely write it off, but continue on a new creation every chance I get and refining it as much as I can. I don’t consider myself a very colorful author when it comes to words, but I believe in myself…so I keep going. One day, I will reach my potential as I hope most aspiring writers will!

    • K.M. Weiland says

      This is very true. There’s a reason we say that a story is never finished until it’s published. So long as it’s still floating around somewhere in our lives there’s always a chance for resuscitation.

  20. Brigitta Mc. says

    There’s a group of characters I have that went through two incarnations of attempted novels that I discarded for two different reasons. The first was because I tried to toss so many ideas in that it became such a convoluted mess that starting over from scratch rather than trying to fix the mess it had become was preferable. The second one was discarded because I added robot antagonists. It took quite a bit of work before I realized I had no passion for writing about the robots in the story (a necessary component for that tale since they were the whole reason for the apoc scenario going on). In the end, I’ve just written a group of solo and group short stories that involve the original core cast. I guess I just had to realize it wasn’t necessarily the stories I had the passion for, but this particular band of characters. Maybe, someday, I’ll find a story that they’ll all fit into. In the meantime, their individual tales are giving me more than a lifetime of ideas for shorts.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Sometimes stories have to go through several manifestations before we find the one that’s best for them. This is a great illustration of the Samuel Beckett quote.

  21. Good points. And just because you’ve given up on that story doesn’t mean that you are throwing away all of those ideas. In fact, stopping and redressing could be the best thing you could do. I realised that one of my stories was just terrible for a reader, but it made for a great backstory that informs a story later in that character’s life.

  22. I’m trying to not give up on a 10 year-old play of mine. Since I wrote it as a youngling, however, I’m confident that letting it marinate for a long time will help in the long run as I continue to take shots at “getting it right”.

    Tough post to read (as it probably was to write), but an important one. Thank you!

    • “Marinating” is always going to be an important step. Some stories only need a couple months. Others will require years. Just because we have to set a story aside for a lengthy amount of time does not mean we’ve failed with it.

  23. I have just recently let go of a novel I had in the works, a Science Fiction story by the name of Dark Galaxy that I just couldn’t seem to contain. I still have some love for it but it had some very deep seated problems in plot and characterization that I couldn’t overcome, the largest of which being that it required an understanding of complex biochemistry, and I could not grasp some of the concepts my characters needed to be experts in.

    I worked on that and two other novels simultaneously (I have a very strange writing routine), and whenever that one would come up, I would internally groan and my creativity would make a break for it. So, I’ve let it drop (meanwhile, I finished the other two first drafts – I had been working on this one longer).

    I still feel like one day I will pick it up and understand what I was trying to do with it, but that time will have to be far in the future.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Sometimes we just have to give ourselves some space from a project in order to really understand what it’s about. One of the problems that contributed to my WIP’s demise was, in retrospect, my attempts to cram it into specific boxes, rather than letting it wend its own way to completion.

  24. I have only ever given up on one story. I was close to finishing the first draft, and I suddenly realised that the story was absolutely hopeless. I had been fooling myself for quite some time, then I woke up one morning and I realised that I hated my characters, hated my plot and hated the way the story had altered my writing. So I axed it. Best thing I could have done, truly. Why waste time on something you don’t even like? There is a fine line between just giving up and admitting defeat. But I think if you feel guilty for quitting, then you shouldn’t have quit. If, like you said, you feel an overwhelming sense of relief, then you probably made the right decision.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      The line between positive and negative in giving up on a story can be a fine one. It really does come down to our motivations and priorities. We need to be completely honest with ourselves about *why* we’re moving on. Some reasons are completely valid; some aren’t.

  25. Rodney Bsallenden says

    Brave-strong-powerful and it will return. Well done KM: nothing is lost and ideas, characters reform in another story. Relationships could be just as rejuvenating as we give up on a “stuck way” and seek a new inspiration. It works if we have the courage to let go and start again. The creative spirit is very hungry and “breathless” soon becomes “song of the stars”

    Chapter One…..

    • K.M. Weiland says

      I like the idea of the creative spirit being “hungry.” There’s always another story to write, another character to explore. That’s the most exciting thing about the writing life.

  26. This is my first novel, all over. The idea? Great. But to make it something worth publishing, I’d literally have to open a new document and re-write it word for word in order to rid the story of the plot holes and general messy bits. Six years and five edits and it’s still abysmal! I wasn’t too upset though; although it is still my ‘baby’, I know when to just let it go!

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Nothing wrong with sticking with a story long enough to rewrite every word. Some of the best books in history have been written that way! But it’s true: most of us are going to be better off taking what we’ve learned and moving on to the next story.

  27. There is a project I have considered abandoning. Well, an idea, really, but my gut says not to give up yet. I know I just don’t have all the elements in place yet, but I have the passion to see it through.
    I do love the advice for when to give up a project, though. I had to do that before, and just kept the one element I knew I couldn’t abandon.

    Thanks for all of your great advice. I am definitely going to be putting it to use during NaNoWriMo!

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Sometimes it can be difficult knowing when we’re right in wanting to give up a story. Guilt can often assail us – sometimes with merit. But there just comes a time when some things need to be put in our rearview mirrors.

  28. Hate that you gave up on The Deepest Breath. That one had tons of potential, and I personally loved it. Don’t toss it for good. Someday, you’ll see it for what it is instead of what you wanted it to be, and you’ll realize it’s still an excellent novel.

    My two cents.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Thanks, Linda! I definitely appreciate the encouragement on this project. No story is ever abandoned until it’s irrevocably in print or the author’s dead! So who knows? Maybe I’ll figure out what I need to do to fix this one sometime in the future.

  29. I am at a point in my story where I’m not sure whether to lay it aside for a few years or grit my teeth and work through it. It seems to have expanded beyond my control. I’ve been at it for about 7 years, and in the process it has morphed from an immature paranormal romance to a completely different epic fantasy about bringing two races back together. Big changes, right? I guess my problem is that I didn’t have a ‘vision’ for it to begin with. It just kind of morphed. Now the two characters I salvaged from the original idea have none of the same characteristics as they used to, besides where they are from, and they are certainly not romantic towards each other. haha. Basically I look at it each day and wonder, “How on earth did I get here?” I wonder if that’s a sign…

    • K.M. Weiland says

      My advice would be to take a few months’ break from the project. If you’re still unsure when you come back to it, then keep at it. If you’re not *sure* you should give up, you’re probably not ready to let it go just yet.

      • Thanks for the advice! That may be just what I need. I may brainstorm for future ideas in the meantime. I am also planning to sit down with myself and have a nice chat about whether or not my motives for feeling this way are legitimate. haha. It will always bring about good if we are honest with ourselves. =)

  30. Just this morning I was writing about the same things. How to know when your story just isnt going any where. It is hard to put those darlings in a folder and not do anything with them. Then I realized just how much I learned like dialogue technique point of view, and so many other things. So I’d have to agree they are stepping stones to where I am now. One can view them as acquaintances who come into our lives to teach us something then leaves. We will always remember them for the lessons they taught


    • K.M. Weiland says

      Effort is never wasted. Even if we don’t achieve the end we wanted, the experience is bound to teach us important lessons.

  31. So far I have not given up on any of my stories. I may put them on a back burner until I work on something else, but I always keep thinking of how to make that story that’s simmering better. I’m a romance author who writes steamy bedroom scenes (and not necessarily always in a bedroom, lol) so when I embarked on writing a YA adventure story… well, let’s just say it didn’t go the way I wanted.
    Also, I have a story I like to refer to as my “training wheels”. It’s finished but you’ll find every beginner’s mistake there, from head hoping to telling and info dumping. Still, those who read it said they found it compelling. So maybe there’s something there. I still plan to revisit it someday. At this pace it looks more like a retirement project. But, everything I wrote is published, and these two stories will not be an exception.

    Never give up! Never surrender! ~ Galaxy Quest

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Love your attitude! I’d like to think I will return to my unpublished (but still loved) stories one day. Perhaps not, since there always seems to be an abundance of new stories calling. But no story is “finished” until it is solidified into the irrevocability of print.

  32. Jennifer Austin says

    I spent five years working on a manuscript in my spare time. Research, sleepless nights and writing in every possible minute and it felt like complete torture and failure to give up. Like saying I would never be a successful writer. But in the end it was for the best. I loved the characters and there are some elements of the story I loved, but it would never have been published. Almost too close to fan fiction. Maybe someday I’ll go back to it and make it more my own and less like other popular novels, but for now, I’ve moved onto a better project that belongs only to me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      We always learn a lot from those early, unpublishable novels. They’re just as valuable, in their own way, as anything we may write later on.

    • I have been there. Especially the part about it feeling more like fanfiction in the end. I popped on to tell you that with some time, space, and patience, you can separate yourself from what your original plan for the piece was, pull out the original parts that were all you and create something wholly different and original. I just completed my novel of just that, and if you read the original, it is completely unrecognizable. 🙂 So have faith.

  33. Don’t know why, but this feels a sad post to me 🙁
    Writing novels are such a big labor, giving up on them must be hard.

  34. I can identify with this. I have written first drafts for two novels, and I’ve been really question myself a lot lately about if I even want to write books. Now that I know what it really takes (ie. rewriting a billion times), and what the publishing industry is really like (ie. its virtually impossible to get literary works published because the market for them is so small, and publishers are more risk-averse than ever). It’s no wonder why no many novelists are prone to depression and suicide. Novel writing is, IMO, the most maddening pain-in-the-ass creative process imaginable.

    In the end I decided I’m not really cut out for writing novels. As much as I love writing and literature, I also love having sound mental health and paying my bills on time. I am doing very well as a freelance copywriter/journalist, and I am pretty good when it comes to poetry as well, but writing novels just feels like a source of unwanted stress and misery. Life is short and there are a lot of other things I would rather do considering I already spend my 9-5 working on my freelance writing business.

    That being said, if someone really finds fulfillment in writing novels and can actually be successful at it, I think that’s pretty amazing. More power to them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is a great testament to something else I firmly believe in, which is authors’ identifying *why* they’re writing. If you’re writing as much (or more) to be published than just because you love it, that’s a huge consideration when deciding if you want to take this path. Nothing wrong with that priority, but it does make certain choices a little more black and white.

  35. There is a novel I’ve been working on for the past two months. I’ve written and revised the outline and started and stopped and revised the outline some more and got 15k words into it and stopped once again.

    I’ve thought about shelving the book. Calling it quits. The story is too preposterous, it’s too far-fetched, that voice in my head says to me. You’ve got 21 other concepts you could be working on, stories with more passion and more up your alley as someone who wants to write deeply satisfying fiction.

    Just give it up, that voice says.


    I’m going to write that novel. I’m writing it over spring break. The whole thing. 80k words of it, all in 10 days. Not only that, I’m going to experiment, I’m going to toy with dialogue, give the characters some ridiculous quirks, turn friends into enemies, enemies into lovers, make the antagonist sympathetic. I’m going to write descriptive passages so in-depth it might take a page or two. Breaking the rules will be the only rule.

    Will I ever want to publish it? Maybe, maybe not.

    That’s not the point.

    The point is, every novel is a learning experience. I haven’t had a problem writing a novel yet (I’ve written four in the past year, but don’t ask me about revision, entirely different monster). This one is giving me nightmares. There is something to be learned from every novel we write. I look at the four novels I’ve written and see, clearly, that I am improving. Why turn another learning opportunity down? Why shelve that?

    Don’t run from it. Jump into the mouth of the monster, sword clenched between your teeth and both barrels blasting. Just write the darned thing and get it out of your system. If you’re going to shelve it, if you’re not content with it, you might as well let it go out with a bang, right?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good for you! I am a huge proponent of finishing first drafts, because – as you say – you never know what you’re going to discover. The story I mention in this post is one that’s already gone through several drafts, so it’s technically “finished.” But even now it does keep trying to come back to life. So you never know what will happen!

  36. I’m going through this right now, no matter how much I want to deny it. I’m fairly young (almost 18) and while I’ve written a variety of things and changed my ideas several times as I’ve gotten older, probably due to shifting interests, there’s been this one story for the past four years or so that I’ve really come to love. I’ve never been able to hold a passion for a story this long before. I’ve examined it over and over again, and there have been times where I’ve been more than content with the plot, and even planned it out for a six book series, however I’ve come to learn is a no no because it can cause the first book to lose its edge. I’ve written bits and pieces of each of the books, and the characters are a part of me now. I really think it could be something great, and I’ve pursued it with that thought for years. But recently I’ve felt like I don’t know what to do. I need to alter the plot to keep my interest, but there are certain things I do not want to change at all, and I can’t think of anything worse than dropping my story completely. I’ve been reading a wide variety of fiction recently to try and spur new ideas, but I’m really just going off of fear that I won’t ever be able to reconcile my story and my characters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds like it’s a story that means a lot to you, so I would encourage you not to give up on it. But it might be true that you should step away from it for a time (a few months perhaps) and give it some space, so you can view its needs more objectively when you come back.

  37. I actually don’t so much as give up on books as I put them away. Time can make a huge difference. One book I finished had structural problems–deep ones. I knew it had become way too melodramatic and cliche but I didn’t know how to fix it at the time. I loved the characters, but the story wasn’t working. Ten years later it finally cliched. I dumped the ending and rewrote the last half of the book, then went back and revised the front so the new ending and reshaping worked. I had the chops and technical skills to fix it (finally). So sometimes it’s a matter of resting the work.

    But I do think the big lesson is not to bite off too many technical challenges. I learned that lesson from another writer who mentioned that if you’re tangled up in technical challenges how can you give the character and the story your attention? That’s stuck with me–and I see other writers who have yet to learn that. Better a great book with simple structure than showing off structure and the story is flat, flat, flat.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good thoughts. The book I talk about in this post is actually one that’s been creeping up on me again. I want to re-read it here soon. Who knows? Maybe it will resurrect.

  38. Oh man, reading this was like releasing a weight. I have a story I’m about 60,000 words into and, though I love the idea of the story, I chose a narrative format/timeline that is frankly too much for me (or at least the writer me right now) and I don’t know how to fix it without going back to the beginning. Letting it go might just be the best thing I could do. So, thank you for…well, not giving me permission, obviously, but presenting the idea as a possibility.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I know that feeling totally. It *is* like a weight, and although we have to be careful not to confuse it with just the toughness of difficult patches in our writing, it is, in general, a good sign that perhaps we’re better off moving on.

  39. At one point I had about eight stories I was working on at once. But I realized that with everything else in my life, it was becoming overwhelming. So, I decided to get rid of all but 2 or 3. (The third I don’t really work on anymore, so I only really have two.) One of the two was a story I started about five years ago,and it took me four years to complete the first draft. As I was triumphing with my accomplishment, I realized that I didn’t really like how the rough draft was directed. So, after watching a few videos and reading a few posts, I realized that in order for my story to get better…I would have to rewrite it. I dreaded it so much at first, but as I kept progressing, I started to see that my story was getting better. It’s so much more organized, and I am satisfied with it so far. Now I’m glad I am taking this extra step with this story.

  40. I have one novella that I started at the beginning of this year. After struggling with the storyline through the first week of January, I ended up setting it aside to work on a different project. Reading through this post, my unfinished novella loomed in the back of my mind.

    Next month, I’ll be reevaluating where I stand, returning to the questions you presented in this post. Although I still have embers of passion burning for the novella at the moment, this may be one of my darlings that’ll need to be put to rest . . . for now.

  41. Even though i’m just starting at the beginning of my career i’ve had to drop a book I had an idea for clear back in high school. I tinker with it from time to time, but mostly on the fictional world. Every time I do my gut and heart sinks because I know I won’t be able to get the story out in this world no matter how badly I want to. Maybe I haven’t worked on the plot more or something but every time I write the novel I come to a part that I have to do more world building on or character stuff and it starts irritating me from time to time. I’m not that great at planning novels, I get an idea and I dive in without any preperation. It sucks and after reading this I feel more sure than before that I just need to put it out of it’s misery. But I learned that it’s important to prepare for writing a novel.

  42. Aaron Jinks says

    This doesn’t mean you should give up, it just means you need to discipline yourself more. I’ve felt all of these things on several occasions with my novel and I’m still going on strong because I’ve taken it too far to end it. I’ve built to strong of a relationship with all the characters to just stop. There’s still hope, there always is.

  43. Eszter Tokai says

    I’m writing my first story, but it’s just not working. One character asked a question which made me think about it. What am I imagine, what will happen? As I start writing, I always ask dosens of questions of what I’m even trying to write, but I don’t know. The plot and the characters are just not working together, and it’s a complete mess. My friend, who reads my story as I write, said that it’s good and keep going. But I don’t feel like continuing it, I don’t have the passion, or I don’t know. It feels so wrong to write it. I consider to quit this one.

  44. This was an informative read!

    I’m currently writing my first book. I made a complete outline of the story and written 5 or so chapters. Things are going well for a first draft, but with one exception; I don’t want to tell that story anymore.

    The passion has died out. I spent a year outlining the story and creating characters. I made scenarios, themes, character arcs, a fictional world and all other types of things. All I have left to do is write…

    But I don’t want to tell that story anymore.

    I find myself wanting to have my characters behave in ways that would completely change the dynamic of the story. I feel like writing about different issues than I did a year ago. But I also don’t want to throw away a year of work, especially since I have yet to finish a single book.

    This definitely gave me something to think on. Thank you!

  45. Ha! My first one had five prologues, two endings, an epilogue, and a villain who had no reason to care about the stolen artwork at all….

  46. I’ve had some stories in my childhood I gave up on, because I outgrew the the plots or the need for the characters. There was a time in high school I was working on two story ideas, wrote out rough drafts for both, but after my parents laughed at the silliness of one story and the implausibility of the plot, I dropped it at the handwritten rough draft (and the characters along with it) and carried on with the other project.

    Other than that I don’t tend to give up on my stories, rather I may write a bunch of rough drafts and not return to them until years later. I found, over time, ideas change as the plot develops in my mind, and individual stories dealing with the world I may drop, but not the concept or the characters. That said, out of those old drafts I had some good short stories, (even rereading them now I see promise) but they just didn’t feel right to me to continue with the cast of characters I chose for them. Maybe another time with another cast, but they aren’t the focus for me at the moment.

    I guess part of my problem was that back then i didn’t have a clear vision other than I was going to have a series. (remotely inspired by Judy Blume and her story books), except with bug-like characters in their world (and exploring our world from a bug perspective). My parents wanted me to just seek publishers right away, but my gut instinct told me “Not ready” and to “keep going”.

    I’ve been letting the world cook in my head over the years. The plot has gotten a lot more complicated, and the world more spectacular. Like another commenter I have my moments of wondering “How did I get here?” and “Oh dear, what am I getting myself into?” and like yet another commenter have my moments of realizing “Hey I really need to work on the world building aspect to have it make sense,” but the underlying gut emotion afterwards is “You need to keep going” even that means it may be another 15+ years of work on it to get something publishable.

    So maybe you may find The Deepest Breath, “not ready” now, but who knows, maybe it just needs to cook more and develop before all of a sudden it snaps, “Oh yeah this what I need to do to get it to work.”

  47. LauraClare says

    I’ve been writing my first novel off and on for about 2-3 years now in my spare time. My original plot idea was a dystopian novel – a story about real human connection in an artificial ‘perfect’ world. I wrote a good 50, 000 words of this and realised my character’s call to action didn’t seem strong or plausible enough. The idea just didn’t seem to work on paper. I made the mistake of not plotting properly and the main character just didn’t convey well. So it morphed into a detective novel in the same setting, only this time in the dark crime-ridden underground of this futuristic city. This time I had more of a plot but still not a tight one. I’m now at 70, 000 words and I’m not being modest when I say it really is a very loose novel that doesn’t come together well. 90% of me wants to keep going, edit the characters, the plot line etc. but I can’t help wondering if this is just because I hate the thought of giving up, rather than that this is a novel I really want to write. The genre is not one I originally wanted to write in, and I can’t help feel I’ve ended up with something quite unoriginal. On the other hand, there are parts I really love. Should I keep going with this, even if the finished version is not something I will ever publish, put it down to experience, or give up and write something new. Something I’m more passionate about? I can’t tell what my gut is saying on this one. Will I end up doing the exact same thing with a new novel?! Advice very welcome!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My advice would be to set it aside for a couple months. Then perhaps you can return to it with a clearer sense of what you really want to do with it. There’s no right answer. There’s only what would make you feel most fulfilled in the long run.


  1. […] As writers, we are always learning. Margi Preus shares 9 things we can learn from other writers, while Robin Wasserman examines why Stephen King novels hold such fascination for the YA crowd even though they are not YA. Productivity is key to success in today’s market. Alythia Brown tells us how to beat writer’s block by clearing the chaos in our lives; Julia Gifford proves that standing desks create better productivity; and K.M. Weiland shares 3 signs that it’s time to give up on our story. […]

  2. […] During this time, I have also begun to streamline my office – well my half of the office anyway – to be more conducive to writing.  You know, get rid of the junk mail, file the bills, throw away the trash, dust the screen, get my notes out… that fun stuff.  I’m also cleaning in my computer as well to hide away anything that is distracting.  Like, for example, Life Without Parole.  I’m retiring the @*$#&$#* story.  I could trot out all my reasons, but in truth reading past posts will serve you better.  The final nail in LwP’s coffin came in this article by K.M. Weiland that I found at (yep, you guessed it) Twitter: 3 Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story. […]

  3. […] morning I read an article about the 3 Signs You Should Give Up On Your Story by K.M. Weiland – 1) You’re losing focus.  2) You lack passion.  3) Your gut says […]

  4. […] and author K.M. Weiland’s piece, Three Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story, is just that. The author, most recently of Structuring Your Novel, can be trusted to know a thing […]

  5. […] 3 Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story […]

  6. […] written about how to recognize how to recognize when you should abandon a project, but you only briefly […]

  7. […] Or maybe you’re wondering if you should just throw in the towel on a project. KM Weiland helps out in her post, “3 Signs You Should Give Up On Your Story” or novel… […]

  8. […] at Writers Helping Writers, they pointed out three signs you should take a break from your novel, and I ticked every one of […]

  9. […] K.M Weiland likened her experience with giving up on a novel with ending a romantic relationship.  Somewhere along the line she had list sight of her intentions and feel out of love with the work.  ‘The first draft was a nightmare to write, and I spent the next two years rewriting the heck out of it.  After the last rewrite, I realised something: although there is so much that is right about this story, its plot problems are so deeply entrenched that, in order to fix them, I would have to completely change the story.’   Taken from Three signs you should give up on your story. […]

  10. […] who give up on their books’ into Google and clicked on author KM Weiland’s blog post, 3 Signs You Should Give Up on Your Story. It was a great post explaining why she had given up on a book she’d worked on for more than […]

  11. […] recently read this article titled ‘3 signs you should give up on your story’ by K M Weiland. In summary, the […]

  12. […] Weiland has a very open, honest post here where she writes about giving up on one of her novels – a couple of years of work. In it, she […]

  13. […] recently read this article titled ‘3 signs you should give up on your story’ by K M Weiland. In summary, the […]

  14. […] 3 Signs You Should Give Up On Your Story – […]

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