Should you ever give up on a story?

The answer is, yes and no.

Put very simply, you shouldn't walk away from everything that gets you frustrated. In every story I've written I've felt that way at some point. It is a natural part of the writing process. The trick is to realise when enough is enough.

Giving up on an unfinished story

Take some time away from it first

A lot of the time, this break will give you the fresh perspective needed to complete the piece. Rather than walking away, you are taking time out from your first draft to re-frame the story in your mind - an important part of the editing process.

Never delete it

Even if you decide the story as a whole isn't working for you, if you delete it then you lose all the ideas, phrases and characters that you have created up to that point. Don't feel that you have to use everything in the future, but don't cut off your options either. That way, your hard work won't be in vain.

A good way of committing this to practice is through the simple car showroom analogy below.

Store it for parts

Imagine you are the manager of an expensive car showroom. At the front of your shop, you have the pristine and glitzy stories that everyone wants to see. Your job is to package them properly so buyers are lining up for your goods. Yet your continued success is only as good as the back of your store, where sections of old cars are homed. When needed, any spare part can be reused within a shiny new piece. Regenerating it in this way not only gives it new life but also gives more depth and glamour to the new product of which it is a part.

In some cases this may be a superficial replication, such as a particularly vivid description of setting or an engaging segment of dialogue between two characters. In other cases the parts used might take the story as a whole to a new level, such as the description of the setting going so far as creating a very specific and potent atmosphere on which the whole story hangs, or the speech between two characters conveying a depth of relationship, either positive or negative, that goes well beyond the words used. Both uses of your ‘spare parts’ are worthwhile and will add depth to your work. Without storing your writing for parts you would have to work doubly as hard to recreate an effect and might never quite reach the places you once did. If your spare parts are quite good but not up to a finished standard, it’s ok - that’s what editing is for.

The dream: we end up with a shiny new BMW that makes a great first impression but is also a good runner with lots of longevity. Look under the bonnet at the engine and you see it is made up of dozens of pieces, all soldered together from different sources. They have been altered to fit the form of this particular car, polished and moulded, but together they work like clockwork, as if they were always supposed to be together.

For some of you, this all might sound a bit silly (and it is true I’m no mechanic so the analogy is base at best), but we have found that it really works for us and wanted to pass the idea on.

Giving up on a complete story

This will happen when a story is finished and edited but is not getting picked up. It can feel frustrating to keep getting a no, especially when it’s for the same story. You start doubting if the story is any good. However, as publishers we can tell you that there are many stories which we do not publish due to space but which are strong competitors for a place in our magazine. Some of these will get picked up elsewhere but some won’t. It is a harsh reality that has little correlation with the quality of writing seen. To avoid beating yourself up unnecessarily, it is best to have strategies to deal with not getting published. Perhaps this is why successful writers are renowned for their thick skin.

Shelve it for now

Please remember that when we say ‘shelve it’ we do not mean to forget about it, but just to stand back and allow yourself to move on. You may not have found the correct home for your work but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there. Perhaps a submission call will come up in a publication that you have not seen before but that calls out for something you have previously written.

So shelve it, but keep your eyes and ears open to make the most of any opportunity that presents itself.

If a story never gets published...

It was still a productive use of your time, not a waste of it. The process you went through to write it, edit it and put it out there to be rejected is all invaluable experience. You will have developed as a writer and also practised lots of the soft skills that will aid future success. That is something to be unashamedly proud of!