Monday 27 July 2015

Giving yourself permission to abandon a story...

In 2012, I joined the Chapter Book Challenge. The idea was to write the first draft of a chapter book, or a novel for primary aged kids, in a month. I had a vague idea, and sat down to write. A chapter book was completed and then sent off to a critique partner for comment. The biggest comment that stayed with me was "It has potential, but what's the point of the adventure?".

This story has been bugging me since then and I've been trying to find ways to make it work. I still like the premise of a time travelling adventure, but have been trying to find a point to the story without completely abandoning what I wrote in that first draft.

Fast forward to 2015. On Saturday, I went to hear Morris Gleitzman speak about his latest book. My kids are huge fans of his Once series and we were looking forward to it. Something he said really resonated with me, and that is "Your character must have a problem to solve".

This got me thinking about the story I wrote back in 2012 and I worked out why it wasn't working. The main character didn't have a problem to solve, he just went on his adventure with the irritation that his grandmother couldn't give a decent birthday present!

While I still like the idea of this story, I've finally given myself permission to abandon the drafts I had been working on and start anew instead of working on the same story and trying to edit it to make it work.

Sometimes, it's hard to let go of a story idea we have been working on for a while. It seems that all the time we spent on those words is going to waste... this is never the case. That time is spent writing words and learning our craft. While I have been reluctant to let my original story go, I know that a lot of the research I did can be used for other stories, as well as the characters I've created and some of the settings I'm sure will pop up in future stories.

Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves permission to leave a story behind completely so we can move on to something better.

Melissa Gijsbers lives in Melbourne and writes in between working as a bookkeeper and being the mother of two active boys. She is a blogger and author of flash fiction and children's books. Her first book, Swallow Me, NOW! is now available.
Follow her writing journey at


  1. Yeah!! Out they go! Story idea number one and two and thirty. No honestly, thank you. I get the duster out and go clear some cobwebs out of the archives. That's all I needed ; permission to spring-clean in winter.

  2. Hi Melissa - along with a lot of other things, I inherited some bull-dog genes. We 'Curtises' finding it hard to let go of something once we're committed to it. The thought of letting go a full story sends shudders down my spine lol. However, I do think you have a point. One of my manuscripts had a chunky start, though it also had a scene that I absolutely loved - it took a lot of soul-searching - but I cut three chapters, rewrote them from a different point of time - and, I think, improved the manuscript. So even a bull-dog like me can let go ;) Thanks for your post.

  3. Thanks, Melissa. I'm currently wrestling with that re the latest novel I've started . Am asking myself if a change in the main character's personality will do the job or if it is just not going to work!

  4. Thanks for sharing such wise insights, Melissa. I cheered when you commented that the time and effort you spent on the manuscript you put aside hasn't and won't be wasted--I'm sure you will reap the benefit of the hard work you put into it lots of ways. Great you are open to making sweeping changes like that too--all part of the journey.

  5. Hi Melissa,
    I've let go of quite a few over the years. There's something to be said for the proverb, 'Don't flog a dead horse.' If we can resurrect them by making huge changes, we are willing to, but sometimes we just know in our hearts when it's time to stop. Either way, we are wiser for the experience and it's never wasted.

  6. Wise words Melissa. It must have been hard to let go of something you'd been working on for so long, but as you say, that time wasn't wasted and you learned lessons you can apply. I've got a number of short stories and poems lying around half finished. Maybe I need to have a good look at them and work out which ones are worth saving and which ones were practice pieces. Thanks for the encouragement.

  7. Thanks for that piece of wisdom and for sharing your story Melissa. I'm sure the time you've spent on it is not wasted at all - you've probably honed your craft while doing so. I think there's a lesson for all of life - not just for our writing lives there. Sometimes we have to abandon ship and move on and it is not a bad thing. Well done for learning from it and for teaching us too! :)