Thursday, November 15, 2012

When to Give Up on A Story

by Rachel Coker

Rachel Coker resides in Lanexa, Virginia with her parents, who’ve homeschooled her since she was a child, and two sisters. She is the author of 2012’s Interrupted: A Life Beyond Words. Coker has a passion for great books and has been surrounded by them all her life. Her gift for writing became apparent at the age of eleven, at which time her parents, who owned a Christian bookstore, signed her up for a year of lessons with a professional writing coach. www.rachelcoker.wordpress.com


So this is a very sad topic to talk about when you’re an author, because in a way it’s almost as depressing as discussing giving up a child for adoption. We writers beat ourselves up and agonize over this question all the time, and we just never feel satisfied with our answers. And that is the question, when is it okay to give up on a story?

When is it time to take a story that just isn’t working out and sit back and say, “You know what? This is it. I’m just going to give up on it and I’m not going to work on it anymore and it’s never going to get published and I’m just going to figure out something new.”


This is an extremely hard thing to do. Because, as an author, you have such an emotional attachment to your stories. They’re like your little babies that you birthed and cleaned up and spent countless hours lying awake and thinking about. You watched them grow, change, and mature. You love those stories like they were your children and if faced with the heartbreak of ever parting from them, you’d probably swim all the way to Sydney, Australia with a half-crazy blue tang fish and even face a dentist to reclaim them back. Yeah, we’re talking strong emotional attachment here.

But sometimes, a story just doesn’t work out and it’s just not happening. And you realize that the only thing to do is to give up on it. Even if it’s really great writing or amazing characters, you just have to come to the realization that what you’re envisioning is never going to happen. You’re stuck, and there’s no real way or motivation to move forward.

I can think of two specific examples, personally, of two different stories that I loved and spent so much time on, but ended up abandoning. I spent so much time on them, and wrote over one hundred pages for each story, and I really planned on one day publishing them both.

But something never really felt right. There was always something holding me back and making me question both stories. And it got to the point where I finally just had to realize that they weren’t publishable books or stories that I really believed in. So I stopped writing them. And it’s sad because they involved great writing and amazing characters and lots of humor and interesting plot twists, but at the end of the day my heart just wasn’t in it. So when do you get to that point? What does it take to finally quit a story and realize it’s just not going to happen anymore?

I think there’s a couple different things you want to consider. The question to ask yourself would be:

Is this story still going somewhere? 

Sometimes you start off with this great big jumpstart and you dive right in with so much excitement about characters and settings and plots. But then, after a while, it gets to where you’re just trying to push forward and move on but nothing’s happening. It’s as if you’ve hit a wall. And while sometimes you can get over that wall by thinking creatively, brainstorming, and remembering what it was that made you love that story so much when you first started out.

But sometimes you just can’t move on. You’re just stuck and you can’t see the story going anywhere. That’s such a difficult conclusion to come to, but it’s when you have to realize that maybe it isn’t a story that’s worth putting that much effort into. If it’s not something that you can still feel passion for, it’s not something you can continue to write.

Sometimes stories are just too depressing to continue. One of the stories that I mentioned earlier was beautiful and poetic and consisted of some of my favorite writing that I’ve ever done, but the plot line was just gloomy. I was so emotionally invested in the story that I couldn’t find any humor whatsoever in what was going on. And that’s definitely not a good place to be. There always has to be something light or sarcastic or witty to balance out the sad tones in a book and I couldn’t come up with anything! That’s how wrapped up in the story I was. And even though that book was really special to me and I might someday be able to revisit it and make it work, but at the time it was just too depressing and really made me feel sad when I was working on it. So I just had to come to the conclusion that nothing was going to come of it and move on.

Of course, that’s when I got the idea for “Chasing Jupiter”, so I’d say things worked out nicely in the end, but it was still a tough decision.

And the last example I’ll give of when it it’s probably time to stop working on a book is when you have something new and exciting in the back of your mind. And the new idea is so exciting that you literally can’t wait to start working on it. Personally, I plan my books in advance. So when I’m working on my third book, I’m already planning out my fourth one and I know that as soon as I’m finished, I’ll be jumping into that new story and really fleshing it out. So I know I have to wait on that next idea until the time comes for me to work on it.

But sometimes, you just can’t wait. And if what you’re working on right now doesn’t really seem important enough to keep putting energy into because of something else you’re dying to do, then maybe that’s a sign that you need to let it go and work on something that you’re passionate about. You just need to go for it! The first story isn’t going to go anywhere. If you give it up now, you can always come back to it later. No problem.

If you’re passionate about a story and you love it enough to be able to push through the hard times, then it’s worth writing. It’s worth the time and the energy and the sleepless nights to try and get that story published. No question about it. But if it’s just not happening for you, then you don’t need to feel bad about letting it go. You can set it aside and realize that whether or not you ever go back to it, you’re going to be okay. There are better things in life that you can be spending your time on than difficult stories that your heart just isn’t in. Sometimes it is okay to just stop working on a book and find something new. It’s hard, but it’s okay.

So hopefully I’ve either made you feel better if you’ve been thinking about calling it quits on an unexciting story, or else I’ve fueled your passion to really stick with a story you love and make it through those hard times! Just remember to keep writing and keep doing what you love. If you follow that advice, you’ll always make it out okay. As always, I’d love it if you followed my blog and liked me on Facebook! And don’t forget to pre-order your copy of my next book, Chasing Jupiter, due to be released next month!

24 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post, Rachel! Super helpful :)

    Usually, I'm not so far into a story that I'm emotionally attached to it when I start thinking about giving up. But I have this stubborn nature that just refuses to let me! Kind of like the first "stage of grief"--denial. Sure, I eventually get over that and realize if it's so boring to me that I have to force myself to write it...if there's never any excitement...then it's not the story for me to be working on right now. :)

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    1. "Stages of grief" is a great way to describe the process, Amanda. I totally feel like that, too! Here's to stubborn people... ;)

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  2. I've had an idea for a story for close to six years now, and it still hasn't been written. Actually, I wrote close to 30k words one summer, then decided to give up on it. I felt like I couldn't do it justice, since it was such an important story to me and I didn't really how to tell it. Since then, I've learned/am learning a LOT about the writing process and the topic. The story's idea won't leave me alone, and it's always in the back of my mind when I'm writing other stuff. One day I'll return to it!

    Can't wait to read Chasing Jupiter!

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    1. That's great, Anna! I have story ideas like that, too, that I don't feel ready to handle just yet, but I'm looking forward to the day that I am! Thanks! I can't wait for you to read it, too! :)

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    2. Anna, I know how you feel. I have a story right now where I can't get past the planning stage because I don't feel like I'd be able to write it how I want it. I'm just going to keep writing and growing and improving and hopefully I'll write it someday. :-)

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  3. Really helpful post, Rachel!!

    Haha, I'm an extremely stubborn person. So if I'm reading a book that is just horrible and boring, I'll finish it so the book can't say it beat me. I have this problem in writing; "I won't let this lame plot beat me!" I'm also an extremely loyal person, so I feel I'm abandoning my characters if I leave them and go to a different story.
    I did, however, force myself to dump my last one, and my WIP is going so well!!!!!!!! :D

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    1. Oh, Tiffanie, you totally cracked me up! You sound like a soldier - no man left behind :)

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  4. Thanks Rachel!!!
    I actually just put away a story I was working on this summer. It was supposed to be a sequel, but I was just finished with the first one, and couldn't come up with any new plot twists. So I threw it on my shelf. I still plan to finish it eventually, but it does need some serious makeover work first.
    On the other hand, I've got two stories I'm currently writing, but I'm kind of stuck with them. I do know where I want the story to go eventually though, so I'm going to try and just power through the sticky spots.

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  5. Hmm, I think I have the opposite problem. Instead of stubbornly sticking to my story, I'm only too eager to move on to whatever new and exciting idea pops into my mind. I suppose I'd be more like a cheap hooker than a loving mother. XD

    *ahem* Aaaanyway, I'm really excited for my WIP, though, because I'm so much more in love with the idea/characters than I have been for any other story I've written, ever. :D

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    1. Oh gosh XD Spoken as only a writer could. That was epic. *cheap hooker*

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    2. Haha, you crack me up, Dakota. :) Well, the world needs books written by crazy, hyper writers just as much as slow, dedicated ones. ;)

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  6. This is an awesome post, Rachel!! Thank you for this! So helpful! And I can't wait to read Chasing Jupiter!!! I'm totally going to pre-order it. =)

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    1. Aw, thanks so much, Emily! Definitely let me know what you think once you've read it. I'm so excited about this. I can't wait for it to be released! :)

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  7. Really great and helpful post, Rachel! I used to leave all my works unfinished when I was younger, because I always ran out of ideas after about ten pages, but then that I got older, the ideas simply bombed me and for I while I didn't even know which to start. But know my WIP is slowly forming, with a plot and characters that I simply adore. And yes, I always have the ideas for future novels, too! :)
    Alina

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    1. So glad you were encouraged, Alina! Good luck with your WIP. It's so exciting when you find something worth finishing, isn't it? :)

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    2. Thanks :) Yup, I was totally thrilled when I realized that yes, this is something I'm going to complete for sure! Even if I'm still quite far from that. But at least I know that one can get their book published under 16, I was quite anxious about that before ;))

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    3. Haha, so glad that being published under sixteen was encouraging to you! I never realized that could happen either, until it did! ;)

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  8. This post really helped me! My current WIP has really been giving me some trouble (thankfully, it's much better this week). I don't plan on quitting though, because I'm really passionate about this story :)

    Thanks for the advice!

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  9. Thanks for this post! I was also stewing over a depressing plotline, but I realized the reason I could only write a couple of chapters was because it didn't have any cheerfulness in it. My new WIP has some depressing topics but still plenty of scope for lightness and humor as well, so I think it should be better :)

    And about Chasing Jupiter - is it supposed to be a Gone With the Wind twisty thing? It has a Scarlett. And a Frank. And a losing faith with God. Either way, it looks really interesting!

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    1. Wow, I'd never even thought about how much it sounded like Gone with the Wind! The name thing was definitely intentional, though. I decided to name all the Blaine kids after characters out of my favorite books. So you have Juli (Juliet-Shakespeare), Scarlett (Gone with the Wind) and Cliff (Heathcliff-Wuthering Heights). So that might explain the similar name thing! ;)

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  10. Thanks for this post!
    I used to jump from story to story all the time, only sticking at one until about 10k words or so, and then I'd get stuck and go after another story it.
    I just finished a complete first draft for the first time, though, so I'm really happy!
    I hope I won't have to give up on it, but I guess it's hard to tell what's going to happen.

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  11. This post is awesome. Currently, I'm working on a story which I absolutely adore and I'm hoping it will stay that way. However, if it doesn't, then I know which post to come back to. Thanks again!
    -Katia

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  12. This is something I've only done once and it was because I really had no idea of the genre I was writing in and it wasn't all that fun, anyway. I loved, Rachel, how you presented all these facts so soundly -- you made it all sound so simple. Sometimes I make staying-with-and-sticking-through so complicated and you waded through all the muck. :)

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  13. Recently I've been having this problem. I was writing the story of my dreams, the one that I lost hours of sleep for, the one that I paid for in blood, sweat and tears, the one that had characters that seemed like real to me. But now I take a step back and realize . . . no. Just, no. It's not going to work. My antagonist has no motive. The plot line is warped and twisted beyond repair. And now I have to ask myself whether I'm saving it with CPR or if I'm just trying to breathe life into a dead body. So I know this sounds strange, but . . . thanks for helping me give up.

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