Why You Should Stick With a Story

Thinking About Giving Up on Your Story: This Is the #1 Reason You Shouldn’t

There you are, staring at the computer, fighting the very nearly overwhelming urges to alternately smash your forehead against the keyboard, tear your hair out, and, eventually, weep inconsolably. The problem? You’re 30,000 words into your latest novel, and nothing is going right.

The dialogue is as flat as week-old roadkill. The characters are either staring at you with lifeless eyes–or laughing maniacally in their refusal to cooperate. The plot that seemed so fresh and exciting only a few weeks ago is now stalled deader than an old jalopy.

Obviously, you made a big mistake in ever starting this story. Obviously, the best thing you could do is to start thinking about giving up on your story by putting a merciful end to its life, deleting the file, and moving on to the brighter future.

Obvious, yes. But not necessarily true.

Are You Fooling Yourself Into Thinking You Should Be Giving Up on Your Story?

If I had stopped every time a story became difficult (or even downright impossible), I wouldn’t have a finished piece to my name. Every story has at least one moment where my eyes start to glaze and feelings of frustration and futility roil my stomach into nausea. I have yet to write a piece that hasn’t, at one point or another (usually within the first fifty pages), made me feel like an utter phony. After all, if I were any good at this writing gig, I would know better than to run into these stone walls of stagnation, right?

Shortly thereafter follows the head-banging, hair-tearing, and inconsolable weeping—and then the rationalizations that, since I’m obviously wasting my time on this story, I’d best move on as fast as I can get my cursor up to that little red X in the corner.

All I can say is thank God I didn’t punch the little red X.

The #1 Reason You Shouldn’t Be Giving Up on Your Story

I admit it: I’m a little OCD. I have a hard time quitting anything once I’ve begun it. I’m one of those people who’d probably still be bailing out the Titanic with a bucket as it took a nosedive. As a result, I’ve stuck by stories even through the worst of blocks, even when they seemed impossibly hopeless. I’ve gritted my teeth and kept writing. And you know what? In almost every instance, I eventually wrote my way out of the rut. The story that seemed a goner was suddenly breathing again thanks to my persistent CPR.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of not giving up on your story, even when it seems beyond hope. It’s true not every story will be worth continuing, but every story is worth a second chance.

Feel free to give yourself a rest. Throw the clunker into the back of the closet for a while and concentrate on another project.

But don’t give up. Don’t pull the plug. Sometimes the most difficult and seemingly worthless stories are the ones that will explode into brilliance if only you grit it out and keep hacking away at them.

Allowing your impatience, frustration, and artistic insecurities to convince you you’re wasting your time is far too tempting an escape. But don’t give in. Don’t abandon a story just because it isn’t working. Stories never work in the first draft. But if you’re willing to stick with a story and resist the urge to let go when the going gets tough, you’re likely to discover you possess one of the most important traits of any artist: perseverance.

Tell me your opinion: Have you been tempted to give up on your work-in-progress? What made you keep going–or not?

Why You Should Stick With a 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.

Comments

  1. Lorna G. Poston says

    How’d you get inside my head today?

  2. What? I never told you I had ESP?

  3. Lorna G. Poston says

    Uh, nope. I was absent that day.

    Pretty scary. Just today I was thinking about setting my WIP aside for awhile because nothing is working.

  4. Nothing wrong with setting it aside for a while. Just don’t make a snap decision to set it aside forever.

    • Do you have any posts on how to revise a draft?

      I’m thinking of rewriting a 120K draft because it has too many numerous POV errors, but the heart of the story is still the same.

      I would really hate to completely rewrite the story. I even have looked at my outline on the story. I can see that my problems started in the outline, however there are many characters and aspects of the story’s fantasy world I want to delete

  5. Good post. There are so many stories I’ve started and then maneuvered away from for one reason or another. Usually it was because I got another idea and got excited about writing that.

    But there are many that I’ve gone back to and I am sooooo glad I didn’t give up completely on them because they’ve turned out to be some of my favorite stories 😀

  6. Wow, this is exactly where I am with my current WIP, which is why I am checking out blogs instead. I think it will go in the closet for a bit and I will work on another set of characters that have been bothering with their chatter.

  7. @Cindy: I think the lure of other stories (which always seem much more promising and easy at a distance!) is probably the reason I hear most often for writers abandoning current work. But that’s actually one of the things that keeps me writing. I know all too well that there are more stories in my head than I’ll ever live long enough to write!

    @Amy: I’ve tried alternating between projects on a few occasions. If nothing else, it shows me which project truly has my heart.

  8. Great post! Love it! I’m going to share it with some of my writer friends who I think would be encouraged by it.

  9. This is a good post. I have this issue all the time. I have two stories at the moment that I feel I’ve written into a dead-end.

    I’ll keep plugging away but sometimes it’s comforting to still be in the ‘novice’ stages of writing. Nothing’s going to ‘print’ and there’s always room for improvement.

  10. @Brianna: Thanks! I hope they find it helpful. 🙂

    @Noel: Very possibly the biggest achievement any writer can reach is simply finishing that first draft. Somehow, once it’s finished, fixing its problems is often a thousand times easier.

  11. Thank you! This is rousing and wonderful. As soon as I get caught up over at my blog I plan to do a little intro to this post and then send my readers over to see this. Every writer needs to receive this reminder at some stage. Seems it was perfect timing for several on this thread.

  12. Thanks, Milli! That would be much appreciated. Discouragement is something that’s so easy to give into, for novices and pros alike. We all need to hear occasionally that it’s darkest before dawn.

  13. Good post and encouragment. This has happened to me with my poems but after a few days and fresh eyes you’ll keep going. thats what i do when i have this problem. Thanks for this great post.

  14. Yes, I think that’s an important point to note. “Sticking with” a story doesn’t mean that sometimes the best thing possible isn’t giving it a temporary rest. It’s inevitable that we’ll lose objectivity from time to time.

  15. I have run into this situation many times with my novel. I find I get stuck when I’m not sure of the pov or the setting in the next scene. Sometimes it doesn’t come to me right away, but because I’ve been there before and have gotten through it, it gives me a bit more confidence with each block I face.

  16. Every novel is a new adventure, but the more you’ve written, the more you know that this too shall pass. I started keeping a writing journal for this very purpose. It’s a great relief to look back at old journals and see that I’ve conquered the very same hurdles in previous stories.

  17. Great post! This is great encouragement not only in our writing but in all aspects of life. Thank you.

  18. I’m glad you were encouraged! Writing – like most artistic pursuits – can be a very *discouraging* lifestyle. We need to focus on the positives as much as possible, lest we get sucked into a whirlpool of frustration.

  19. How I LOVE hearing that published writers still battle with these thoughts and want to throw their computers out the window…or maybe that’s just me and my compture:)
    Thanks Katie, inspiring as always.

  20. If anything, I think the pressure only mounts once your work is out there being read by people (gasp!). Suddenly, you have to live up to more than just yourself and your own dreams.

  21. Other stories competed the whole time with my first book, but I knew if I gave in and followed them to their world, I could never say I had written a book, so that kept me plugging away. And the feeling of finishing it is awesome.

    What’s getting me now, is revising that book. I’ve learned so much and am currently learning my areas of lack through my crit partners that I want to give up revising the whole book. This is where I am tempted at the moment to just abandon it.

  22. That’s what has always kept me going too. I know that if I start the cycle of abandonment, it will never end.

    And revising is my least favorite part too. For the most part, I edit extensively as I go. It’s not a system that works for everyone, but it definitely makes the revision load much lighter at the end of the first draft.

  23. I needed this today! I am at that point right now in my story, and I was ready to throw it out the window. You saved me! Thanks!

  24. I’m so pleased, and humbled, that so many people have been blessed by this post. I wondered, as I was writing it, if it would connect with anyone!

  25. Great post. Now, if I could only absorb your discipline … *grin*

  26. Oh, I don’t think you’ve any problem with discipline. Anyone who can find the time to write with two kids in the house has discipline to spare!

  27. Just what I needed today! Think I’ll save it for future times of trouble!

  28. Glad the piece spoke to you. Just keep writing: three words that solve 90% of a writer’s problems!

  29. Perseverance is something that everyone needs to learn, it’s not a gift, it’s something we have to strive for with all our might. The picture that came to mind of you on the Titanic with a bucket in your hand was quite hilarious. Thanks for making me smile. 😉

  30. So the picture of me drowning makes you smile? 😮 JK! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  31. This has been a problem for me. I’ve deleted more than one potential novel because I thought they were horrible. I finally managed to finish a first draft in my last attempt. Once it was done, I could look back and realize it wasn’t good and would take much more than simple revisions to make anywhere near publishable, but the important thing was that I learned from it. Now, in my current attempt at a novel, I feel I’m making correct decisions and am an the right track. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s horrible, but at least this time I believe it can be fixed up in the revision process. That’s something, for me anyway!

  32. I’ve noticed that I tend to learn the big “lessons” of fiction writing only after completing a novel. Only once I’ve gained that closure and distance from a project, do I really “get” it. Even when the finished product stinks, the growth I’ve gained as a writer is invaluable.

  33. Past the mid-point of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve lost all interest in my novel. I’m already 41k words in (aiming for 100k), but the way it’s turning out is nowhere near my original vision. I’ve been trying to find some way to ‘fix’ it, but you article has convinced me to just keep writing! 🙂

  34. All in all I’m a big fan of NaNo, but one of the things I *don’t* like about it is that doesn’t give authors the time to stop and reflect and go back and revise when things aren’t working. It’s important to keep working through a story’s problems, but it’s also important to realize that if something’s broke, you need to stop and figure it out before continuing. Nothing is worse that building an entire story on top of a shaky foundation, and then having to go back and pull that foundation out from under the rest of the story. I hope you find the solution and fall back in love with your story!

  35. I realise this is an old post…but thank you! The more I write, the more I realise that things don’t have to be perfect. My story will never be as perfect as I see it in my head, and sometimes good enough is good enough. Most of the time I quit writing because another story comes along that seems better (a novelty thing), when really my current WIP is just fine and I should finish it. I find that increasing my daily word count helps me get through the writing faster, which means I can get on to better things sooner. 🙂

  36. The “novelty thing” hits me as well. New ideas are always sparkly and perfect in comparison to the worked-over lump of clay that is our WIP. But as soon as we put the new idea onto the table and start working with it, we realize that it can be no more perfect than any other idea. We can only keep working and keep pushing our WIPs a little closer to our perfect visualization.

  37. thomas h cullen says

    The “giving up” obstacle is nothing more than an inevitable part of your story; I myself have experienced the harshest kinds of doubt, and disappointment..

    I regularly go on Screenrant, a quality film website, but regularly feel irritation; The Representative has more gravitas, and more humanity and more emotional power than Avengers 2, or the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, yet unlike those, after sixteen months of pitching and promoting it’s still gotten absolutely nowhere (I do still reiterate yesterday, however: perhaps The Representative’s just that sort of distance in which it can’t be acknowledged by the mainstream, as if it is that then means hypocrisy.)

    But what about intelligence, and what about true merit? I realise what I am: just a worthless repeating creature, who despite the hundreds and hundreds of times I may look at the sun, or admire a tree, is inconsequential to the other thousands and thousands and thousands of realities around me.

    I crave transcendence, yet I query The Representative; I dream about exiting this reality, with other human beings, yet I spend my day to day existence hoping to entice the next literary agent.. Where am I?

    The truth, is that I’m mentally transcended, yet I’m forced to still exist within the parameters around me; twenty-four hours, after twenty-four hours, I have to persist, yet if I had my way no human being would have to ever endure this nightmarish quantity of time.

    (This is where The Representative fits in: to be the tool that threads humanity together, and gets the ball rolling on its potential future transcendence.)

  38. I was listening to some epic fantasy music while I read the last few paragraphs. Now I’ve got this image in my head of you yelling at me on the battlefield. A bit frightening… But inspiring. 😛

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