Deciding to Let Go of a Story

DECIDING TO LET GO OF A STORY

Today I want to have kind of a candid discussion of letting go of a story. It’s a really, really hard decision for writers to make. For sooooo many reasons:

  • You’re unsure if the little voice telling you to let go is your self doubt or your storyteller instinct
  • It almost seems like a waste of time to let go of a story you spent SO MUCH TIME on.
  • Everyone says you shouldn’t give up, and isn’t letting go of a story. . . giving up?
    You’re afraid of abandoning your baby.
  • You promised yourself the most expensive Starbucks drink when you finished this story and gosh darn it you want that Iced Cinnamon Almond Milk Machiatto (I really like my coffee dark, black, and strong, but this drink is my newest addiction too bad I live half an hour away from Starbucks)

I want to address all these doubts, because four months ago, these were my fears. I know it’s really frustrating to hear some writers tell you to never give up on your story while others tell you their best ideas came after they let go of the old ones. It’s really conflicting advice, and I wish I could give you a super easy formula for deciding whether or not it’s time to move on.

Alas, woe is me, there’s now such thing as “super easy” or even “easy” when it comes to writing (Ha, you signed up for this thinking it would be a piece of cake, huh? Sadly it’s not, and sadly I don’t have any cake for you.) That’s also part of the beauty of writing, because everyone NO MATTER HOW ADVANCED struggles with their stories. It’s just part of the process, friend.

That being said, everyone’s process, everyone’s journey, is different. I’m not going to tell you which direction you should take on your journey, but I’m going to tell you the direction I took on my journey and why. This isn’t necessarily advice as much as a discussion about how I made a really hard decision no writer should ever have to make, even though “kill your darlings” is a famous saying for a reason.

Before we dive in: I worked on a story for 6 YEARS. I started it as a NaNo project in 2012. It was inspired by the Coldplay song The Scientist and it was about a girl who has a summer fling which turns abusive. (I was a sophomore in high school and honestly had nooooo place writing this and also how did this song make me think of an abusive relationship??? Where was my high school mind?)

It transformed several times. The only thing that stayed the same was the story at its core was about an unhealthy relationship. (Kind of. . . the story didn’t really have a core)

Fast forward 6 years and the story is about a girl who returns to her southern roots in order to relive her glory days, only to find her BFF is no longer the same as she remembered him.

I had rewritten this story SO MANY TIMES HOLY TOLEDO I LOST COUNT. Each time I would read a finished draft, I would see a lot of problems and no other solution than to nuke the whole draft. I would rewrite it and get it right the next time. WRONG. The story had really, really deep problems that I could not write away without writing a different story. I tried to shake these problems off by telling myself it was just my self doubt.

It’s when I started rewriting AGAIN (good gravy why did no one stop me?) and posting these rewrites to a critique group on Scribophile. They all pointed out the problems with the story I knew I had. I tried to pretend I didn’t by rewriting so many times, but the story had problems. Hearing it from someone else was really eye opening.

ben-white-138743-unsplash

At this time, I was starting to branch out with my reading tastes because of some book bloggers I follow. And I thought “Hey, maybe I should branch my writing out, too.”

That thought snowballed. I didn’t even have a story idea, but the thought was snowballing, even though I tried to ignore it and continued sharing more with critique group. And deep down I knew that in 6 years I had changed SO MUCH and so did this story. I had out grown it, and whatever was snowballing inside me came to the surface.

I didn’t need to start over. I needed to let go.

This sent me into a frenzy of Googling things like “when to let go of a story”, “when is it time to write a new novel”, “how to tell if you should write something new” and so on and so forth.

I wanted it to be out there (but alas, woe is me part 2) there’s no formula. I wish I could give it to the Internet, but I decided instead that I could only share my experience in hopes that it will help you.

So I came to the decision to give up, right? Remembers those fears? It was time to address them.

I WAS UNSURE IF THE LITTLE VOICE TELLING ME TO LET GO WAS MY SELF DOUBT OR MY STORY INSTINCT

This was probably the biggest hurdle for me. I had been working on this for 6 years. The honeymoon phase was loooooong gone, and it was hard for me to tell if I was supposed to push through or let go.

And I’m not sure how to tell you what your difference is between self doubt and a little red flag, except you’ll know. You may be in denial, but you’ll know.
Journal about it. Get your feelings out on paper and then see what you’re working with. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Why do I want to let go? Am I just tired of this story or is there something deeper?
  • Can I push through this hard moment or is it a breaking point for my story?
  • Why is this story important to me? What’s it about that captivates me?
  • How big is the gap between what you want the story to be and what it is? Can you fix that?
  • How have you changed as a person and a storyteller since you started this story?

Only you know if it’s time to let go. Sometimes that little nagging feel masquerades as self doubt and it becomes easy to dismiss. Listen to your storytelling instinct, though.

floral divider

IT ALMOST SEEMS LIKE A WASTE OF TIME TO LET GO OF A STORY I SPENT SO MUCH TIME ON

This is really easy for me to tell you: words and stories you have to trash are not wasted time. They are lessons.

It’s easier said than done, though.

I felt like I had wasted 6 WHOLE YEARS of my life. High school and half of college — gone. I wanted to be published or at least agented before college. Now I’m about to enter my last year in college and I’ve thrown my only story away.

You have to write the bad stories to learn how to write the good ones.

And while it’s great to have goals, writing isn’t a race.

floral divider

EVERYONE SAYS I SHOULDN’T GIVE UP, AND ISN’T LETTING GO OF A STORY. . . GIVING UP?

Let go or be dragged. That’s a Zen proverb I really, really like.

Perseverance is great. Hanging on to something that your heart is no longer attached to isn’t good.

agnieszka-boeske-354851-unsplash

floral divider

I’M AFRAID OF ABANDONING MY BABY

Abandoning is a really strong word.

Here’s the thing. You’re not throwing your manuscript into the shredder. You’re not leaving it on the curb so the garbage man can pick it up.

You’re just setting it aside.

If it calls you back, that’s awesome! That answers the question about whether or not it’s just your self doubt talking.

Letting go of a story isn’t permanent. You can always grab it again.

floral divider

YOU PROMISED YOURSELF THE MOST EXPENSIVE STARBUCKS DRINK WHEN YOU FINISHED THIS STORY AND GOSH DARN IT YOU WANT THAT ICED CINNAMON ALMOND MILK MACHIATTO (I REALLY LIKE MY COFFEE DARK, BLACK, AND STRONG, BUT THIS DRINK IS MY NEWEST ADDICTION TOO BAD I LIVE HALF AN HOUR AWAY FROM STARBUCKS)

Treat yo self to that drink. Forgive yo self and move on. You’ve got work to do, there’s no point in punishing your awesome self.

And that’s it for this post! It is really personal (and kind of long!) but I hope it can help someone who reads it in some way. ♥

QUICK ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m thinking about only posting once a week now that I have a bit of content built up. Then if I feel like posting twice in a week, I will! I can’t decide if I want to post on Mondays to give everyone a little boost at the start of the week, or on Fridays so everyone can read and process over the weekend. If you have any thoughts, let me know!!

floral divider

Let's Talk!

Have you ever had to let go of a story before? Also, do you want to see posts on Mondays or Fridays?

Advertisements

Author: Madeline Bartson

I have really big writing dreams. I want to help other writers realize their dreams and then work to turn them into reality.

13 thoughts on “Deciding to Let Go of a Story”

  1. I love this post (even though I don’t plan on letting go of my story anytime soon)!! As for your posting day, I personally always go through all my new blog updates and things like that on Friday and the weekend, but I don’t have a preference for either day. Now that school’s basically over I’ll be blogging/reading blogs a lot more anyway!

    Like

    1. Aww, thanks Cailin! I’m glad you’re in love with your story! If you don’t mind me asking, what’s it about? I LOVE hearing about other writer’s stories. And I was thinking the same thing with posting on Fridays. Great minds think alike lol

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Heeeeeeell Yeaahhhhh Treat Yo Self! I don’t drink “fresh” coffee, but I like Iced Coffee??? Maybe because I’m addicted to ice cream so I’m just considering it to be apart of the family??? XD

    This post is friggin’ great! Learning to let go of a WIP is a pretty dang important discussion I think every writer needs to acknowledge. Sometimes a story won’t go where you want it to go, and you’ll be chasing it around forever when you could have been working on something that is literally your dream book!

    Oooooo, Monday Pick-me-up or Friday inspiration….. that’s tough. Personally when I upload depends on my schedule away from blogging. Which ever would suit you best! 😀

    Like

    1. Oh my gosh if you love iced coffee and ice cream, I can’t even remember what this is called off the top of my head but. . . there’s a coffee drink where it’s espresso and a scoop of ice cream and it’s literally the best desert ever! I’m sure you could make some variation with iced coffee! And thank you so much. 🙂 It is really hard. I was in denial for so long, too, and I wish I would have had someone to really question me about where my heart was with the story.

      Also thanks for your input! I’m thinking maybe I’ll try to do two blog posts a week? Friday and Monday? Idk I feel like I’m still trying to find my voice and all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. At this shop that’s near me they sell coffee and caramel ice cream and I really want to try it! Something about coffee being cold… REBEL AGAINST THE SYSTEM!! XD
        Oooooo ice cream in coffee. That sounds really nice 😮
        I tried making iced coffee at home once, and I used my mums’ coffee. She drinks hella strong coffee and I couldn’t drink it (because I am a weakling >.<), I'll have to buy my own separate coffee and try again. But I might add ice cream this time, I didn't last time. *gasp* MAYBE that's the secret ingredient I've needed all along!!!

        I still haven't found a rhythm for blogging or how to do it yet either. I'm trying to stay chill about it. I think it's best we just take it one day at a time and see where we go from there.

        Like

  3. I’ve questioned the same thing with my first novel. After reading your post my instincts are screaming ‘stick with it, ride out the storm of rejections and only quit when every agent has said no.’ It feels good knowing I trust my gut. Even if submitting sucks! 😫

    Like

    1. If that’s what your instincts are screaming, than go with it! Only you know the right answer. There’s a difference between doubting your story and the story actually having a deep problem that you can’t fix. I think the biggest red flag for me would be how many times I rewrote this story and how my relationship with it is kind of toxic (if that even makes sense!) Stick with your gut, though, I know you’ll make the right choice.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just after my daughter was born I started writing. It was the first time I stayed with anything. There were parts of it that I loved and other parts that I didn’t love but overall I thought I did a decent job.

    Two people who I trusted read it. They pointed out the problems. I rewrote it. They pointed out more problems. I rewrote it again. I too placed it on Scribs. Some crits were good some bad. Finally I had to let it go. The story’s foundation was a crumbled mess.

    Looking back I saw it as practice. I think that’s what a lot of this is. We’re stumbling along, figuring stuff out and when we do we end up writing a story that was meant to be.

    It’s head to say goodbye but it has to be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, you’re so right about it being practice! The stories we let go are just stepping stones. We make all the mistakes on the ones we let go so we’re prepared to write the ones that were meant to be, like you said.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s