I spent several years writing and polishing the Martian Empire trilogy. Writing and polishing. It felt as though I was in a never-ending spiral of those two activities and I was never going to pull out and actually get something into the public consciousness. Finally, I said “enough” and stopped writing. I had my finished story, a trilogy of books that chronicled the lives of my characters as they got pulled into epic events, had space adventures, and so on. At last it was done. But I had to learn one more lesson, the hardest lesson to learn for any writer.
And what is that lesson? I had to learn that sometimes you’ve got to throw all your work in the garbage. The problem was that the Martian Empire trilogy just plain wasn’t that good. It wasn’t written all that well and the story jumped around way too much with all these weird little ideas about perspective thrown in for good measure. It was high-minded, but I didn’t have the skills to really pull it off. It just wasn’t good.
I could spend another year, or two years, writing and polishing more, but that wouldn’t have helped much. The story was too far gone, the time and effort needed to fix it was too great. I would have had to start all over from scratch, rewriting virtually every sentence in the entire trilogy. So I dumped it instead and started over writing something else. You know what happened to that novel? I trashed it, too. It was okay, but not great. The story didn’t go the way I wanted it to and some of the events were just dumb. Four full-length novels, tossed in the trash and forgotten.
That was hard. How do you just let go of all that hard work? But you have to let go, because you’ll never grow if you don’t. When you’re a writer, actually being a serious writer, you have to know when to give up on a story that isn’t working. The first two stories didn’t work. Starting over let’s you start fresh, without any prewritten words to get in your way. All those little mistakes you made the first time are allowed to fall away, well, not all of them. But some do. Your second story will be stronger than your first. Your third will be stronger than your second. Until you finally get good enough to start letting other people take a peak at what you’re writing. And then you keep learning, because you’ve still got a long way to go.