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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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….

  8. 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.”

  9. 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.


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