Almost everything you hear from writing advice (my own included) is: just write. Don’t think. Don’t look back. Fight the doubt. Word vomit. Chained to the desk. Just stick with it. Don’t give up.
And I would say, for the most part, this is good advice.
But what about when it’s not? What about when an idea just isn’t working, and it’s not about doubt or insecurity but about your heart not being in it?
Is it ever okay to let go?
The problem with this question is that in some ways, it’s impossible to answer. I could say that it is okay to let go, and that could open up a pattern of abandoning projects that will swallow up the rest of my creative life. But if I say that it isn’t, that it is never okay… well, I simply don’t believe that.
My finished draft came as a direct result of abandoning one project to work on another. No matter that I was in the middle of a “commitment” challenge, no matter that I only had one week to go—I had this other idea that excited me, the current idea had fallen flat, and I decided to go for it. If I hadn’t, if I had stubbornly stuck with the original idea, I may not have been able to seize onto the interest in the new idea later on.
With the draft, I never hit a major moment of wanting to let it go. There was a moment in the first episode where I thought it wasn’t good, and might never be good, but I just told myself to get to the end of that first episode. After that, it was a blur of excitement and commitment and then completion.
My current project is not episodic. I divided it into four parts based on story structure, and am writing one part at a time, but each part does not stand alone.
I don’t want to say that’s the reason I’m struggling—I think it’s reductive, and I also don’t think episodic structure is some kind of magical guarantee that a project will work. I don’t want to believe that it’s the only kind of structure I’ll ever write—versatile as it is, it might become gimmicky if it’s the only thing I ever do. But… I can’t deny that I think it was one of the biggest reasons why my last attempt to draft actually worked.
Most attempts go like my current one—although, I have gotten more words/pages than I normally reach. But I hit a point where my enthusiasm wanes, where I stare ahead into the long abyss of drafting and I just… don’t… want.
So is it ever okay to let go? And if so, when?
Unfortunately, I don’t think I know. At least, I don’t think there’s a definitive, one-size-fits-all answer. I think you can try to look at the doubts and where they’re coming from—in this instance, they’re not coming from concern about what other people will think, or concern that my writing is bad. They’re coming from… a lost connection to the work. An inability to connect to the characters. A lack of excitement and anticipation that I’ve felt since this project began.
So, in this case, I am going to let it go. Not forever; I won’t delete what I’ve written, and I won’t mine it for parts (yet). I may even be back to it within a few days.
But I’m going to experiment with other projects. I’m going to see if I can capture the heady excitement that my first draft bottled in me. Or I’m going to find that other projects face the same doubt and waning, and I will have to learn how to push through it.
At worst, I still have my first finished draft… and if I only write one book in my life, at least I can say I wrote one.
But I’m hopeful. I think letting go can be the first step to something amazing. It was the last time…