You Don’t Have to Finish Every Story You Start

abandon draft

How often do you abandon an early draft?

I have abandoned far more drafts of personal essays and short stories than I’ve ever completed. In fact, the ratio is rather embarrassing—maybe twenty starts for every finish. Sometimes I bore myself and lose interest, other times I find a fundamental flaw in my premise. Maybe most often I just lose track of time, and by the time I return to the piece, it doesn’t feel relevant any longer.

Writer David Ebenbach discusses the wisdom in abandoning a draft—in not seeing it as wasted time, but as an inevitable part of the creative process that produces great work. He writes:

[In some] cases I had to write several stories that were about more or less similar things (all about dating, say, or childhood confusion) until I found one that was worth sticking with. This observation was a revelation to me. I’d been worried about how many of my stories were falling by the wayside, but…I needed to write them not for their own sake but so that I could eventually get the right angle on the material.

Read his full essay, Try, Try Again.

For more from this month’s Glimmer Train bulletin:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration and tagged , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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7 Comments on "You Don’t Have to Finish Every Story You Start"

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Michael LaRocca
More than once I’ve abandoned something, only to be working on something completely different years or even decades later and needed what I could still remember of the abandoned thing. I love it when that happens, and I especially love how my brain’s able to retain “the good stuff” from those abandoned projects and forget the rest. Half the time I can’t even remember my real life that well. Also, there have been a few times when I’ve known halfway through a project that it’s going to bomb, but I’ve finished writing it anyway just to satisfy my own curiosity… Read more »
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[…] Don’t Have to Finish Every Story You Start (Jane Friedman): “How often do you abandon an early draft? I have abandoned far more drafts of personal […]

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[…] Friedman reminds us that we don’t have to finish every story we start, and Nathan Bransford asks us to ponder if we even want to win the game we’re killing ourselves […]

Elizabeth Derby

Jane, this post is fantastic. Not only as sage wisdom for authors who beat themselves up instead of embracing the creative process, but for anyone struggling to market themselves consistently, no matter what. Some ideas flop. Some pitches don’t work. Sometimes we just aren’t feeling it. But it’s better to show up day after day with permission to release what isn’t working than freeze or burn out under the false belief that failure is not an option.

Bryan Fagan

It can be frustrating. I’ve got three on the side that I will finish but I made the mistake of jumping in to soon. One of those learning mistakes that I hope I do not repeat.

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