Having the Confidence to Dump a Book

The Liberating Feeling of Letting Go

In my last post I wrote about the fact that I’ve finally finished the first draft of a story. It’s a decent length, has a plot, characters, a beginning, middle and an end. So it’s definitely a story. But it’s a first draft, so what I have to do now is edit it.

And that’s exactly what I started to do a few days ago. I opened up the file, steeled myself for some silly plot-holes and began reading. I think I got three or four chapters in before slamming the laptop shut and declaring that it was rubbish and would never amount to a decent book.

I haven’t opened it since.

So it’s safe to say editing isn’t go so well right now. But that’s actually the side note of this post. What I actually want to talk about is a light bulb moment that I had while listening to a webinar for Jericho Writers Summer Festival of Writing. It was a conversation with Clare Mackintosh, bestselling author of I Let You Go (which I haven’t read yet, but is now on my list).

I absolutely loved Clare’s interview, she had a really open and authentic vibe about her, and she offered some really valuable insights about what she’s learned during her writing career. And one thing that really struck me was her admission that she’s got a whole drawer of books that she’s started and then dumped mid-way through. Why? Because she just knew it wasn’t working. And rather than plowing on with a book that’s not going anywhere, she is content to stop cold turkey and push it aside.

I love that idea. And although I know logically that it’s possible, the idea still seems extremely foreign to me. I have got a whole list of story ideas in notebooks and Google docs that in my mind I have to finish. But Clare Mackintosh is right – sometimes a story just isn’t going to develop into something substantial, no matter how hard you try. And when that happens, you do not have to keep trying to force it. It’s perfectly fine to give up and move on to the next thing. It sounds so simple now I write it, but upon hearing it, the advice was a complete revelation to me.

I suppose, like so many things in my life and writing, it comes back to confidence. Put simply, I don’t (or didn’t) have the confidence in myself to believe that I could come up with another idea. I therefore clung on to any and every idea that came through my brain, with a desperation to turn them into ‘proper’ stories, when in fact, not all of them can or will become fully fledged.

It’s a scary idea, but also rather liberating I think. Because instead of having to keep pushing at something, despite firm resistance, I can, if I want, just let it go and move on to the next thing. After all, there’s no one keeping track besides me. And if I can be OK with it, then that’s really all that matters.

Now, the only caveat to this wonderful insight is that, right now, I’m still at a stage where I honestly don’t know if my work is any good. No one, besides my sister-in-law and writing group, have read any of my writing (even I’ve barely read one of my stories beginning to end!), so I have no real gauge of its readability.

This is part of what makes editing so hard, because I’ve got no external validation to help me know where I’m going right or wrong. It also means that I also haven’t yet built up the skills, knowledge and insight needed to make a good decision about when to dump one of my stories. I think that is something you learn over time, just as Clare Mackintosh did. In fact, she even admits that the very first story she wrote was ‘OK’ but it wasn’t until she got feedback from some publishing bods that she knew it wasn’t the story she was meant to write. So, while trusting your gut is super important, there is still a role for external input, especially when you’re just starting out. Even more so if you’re aiming to become a commercially successful author, because you do need to have a rough idea of whether people might buy your book, and sometimes you need industry experts to give you that info.

But what I think I’m trying to say, in a rather ramble-y way, is that you don’t have to become wedded to a single story. If it’s really not working, maybe take a break and try something else. You will have another idea, and it might even be better than your first. And you need to learn by doing.

So that’s what I’m going to try and do. I don’t know whether my current story is any good, or if the plot will hold together when I read it all the way through, but I’m going to find out. And if it turns out that it’s not what I hoped, and I’d actually be terribly embarrassed to hand it over to anyone else, then I’ll just have to accept that and move on. Because there are always other stories to write.

So that’s my take on things, but what do you think? Do you agree? Have you ever given up on a story because you just knew it wasn’t right? Or, like me, do you sometimes fear you’ll never get another idea? Comment below or contact me to share your experiences – it’s always nice to know you’re not alone in your neuroticism!

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