How To Fix Your Story When It Sucks

A good writing friend suggested over the weekend that I write a post about how to fix a story that sucks. She probably didn’t mean for me to actually write a post about it, but I do have some thoughts on the topic. 😉

It is a fact that I’m currently brainstorming a story that I tried to write a few years ago. Whether the story actually sucked or not doesn’t matter. You have to spend more time with the story than anyone. If you think it’s trash, there’s clearly something wrong.

And I’ll be honest with you – it doesn’t matter what’s wrong. Because that isn’t the problem. The problem is that you won’t leave it alone.

You can’t fix anything if you’re constantly poking at it. So, I’m going to tell you how to fix it. And I’m going to tell you how to figure out what the problem is, because you still really want to know even though it doesn’t matter. Because I’ve been there an awful lot, and I get it.


Yeah. Stop what you’re doing. Put the story down. Walk away. Do something else.

And I don’t mean do something else like go to the movies. I don’t mean take the weekend off. I mean work on another story. You’re a writer. You have something else you can work on. I’m serious. Hands off the story until you figure it out. Because when you’re stressed and writing in circles, you can’t stop the cycle until you step away.

And you know what else? It’s not worth it. I know we think it is. But guess what? It isn’t. If you really want to write this story, you’ll figure it out how to fix it. Your subconscious is powerful. Let it work for you. But keep in mind, your subconscious works in the background. So give it space to breathe.

I totally understand. We get excited about our ideas. Sometimes we get obsessed with them. We want them to work out NOW because we’ll feel like we wasted our time otherwise. But it isn’t wasted time. We’re discovering other ways that the story isn’t working. We’re learning what happens when we force something. We’re learning what happens when we spend too much time stressing ourselves out. They’re valuable lessons.

So, this is how you fix something that isn’t working. You set it down. Don’t be afraid to do this. You may be able to write it later, but you clearly can’t get it together now. And that’s okay. It’s honestly okay. It happens to me all the time. Just last month, I’ve tried to work on two other stories and had to set them down. Their time will come. Or it won’t. Writer’s gut knows what it’s doing. Some stories can be written quickly. Others need a while to bake. Every idea is different.

You may be struggling because you’re forcing it. Maybe you don’t know what the characters want just yet. Maybe you’re like me and find yourself trying to tackle something that isn’t really up your alley because you want to “challenge” yourself, even though there are other characters in your head with clear goals and other ways to challenge yourself. Maybe the timing isn’t right.

It doesn’t matter what the problem is. You’ll figure it out. Later. When you’re not stressed. Probably in the middle of the night. In the meantime, you have something else you can work on. Work on that. Trust me. If you keep beating this story up and yourself along with it, you’re going to burn yourself out, and you do NOT want to burn yourself out. That’s a long recovery road.

The story I’m brainstorming now has been in my head for at least four years, if not five. When I say things will work out, I promise they will work out. You’re not giving up when you set the story down. You’re giving it the space it needs to grow. It’s YOUR monster. It’s not going anywhere.


To close, there’s a Japanese study that says looking at pictures of baby animals boosts cognitive thinking. 😀

14 Responses to How To Fix Your Story When It Sucks

  1. Oh my gosh. I saw the title of this post on my RSS feed and I just started laughing. I really needed this. Thanks. I’ve always felt like I couldn’t juggle two stories at once, but I think that’s a good idea to try because all my head bashing could be spent on something else and on a more fun story. But yeah, it’s hard not to ‘feel’ like I’m wasting time, but I’d waste more time forcing something to work because I’d have to end up rewriting it anyway. 😛

    • Lol! Exactly, exactly. That’s why I stopped my current project when I did. I knew I was going to have to redo everything. It’s coming together now though. ^_^

  2. Those baby animals are adorable! So cute!

    It is true, though, about the subconscious–once you do something else (another project, reading, in my case–*showering*) then the brainstorming will improve.

    • They are!! ^_^

      It’s kind of amazing how stories come together the way they do. Speaking of showering, waterproof notepads are great. Lol!

  3. Awww. I totally look at tons of kitten pictures and have them on my desktop since my son loves cats. Nice to know I’m working out my brain! That is great advice. I’ve had stories brewing in the back of my head for years. I’ve got one character still strong in me for nearly 15 years, but her story hasn’t developed yet. The subconscious is a remarkable thing.

    • You are! ^_^ I have a character that’s been in my head for a long time, too. She’s been a tough nut to crack, but I think it’ll be worth it when it finally happens.

  4. Oh, I have straddled that line a number of times – the line between “I can totally make this work out right now!” and “this is a lost cause, put it down and do something else”.

    After I finish up my current WIP, I’m considering going back to something I shelved about 4-5 years ago. Will it turn into something bigger and better than it ever was before? Maybe. Will it still be a lost cause? Also a possibility. We’ll see!

  5. Aw! Those kitties have me smiling. When I read the post title, I wondered what tips were going to be spit out. The thought of a magic wand did cross my mind, but I don’t think any of us have one of those (btw—why not???)
    Your advice is spot on. Torturing over something never brings anything good. Especially one all of those cute, little plot bunnies for other stories are bouncing around. . . or kitties 🙂

  6. Yay for baby kitties! You’re totally on it there. I had one manuscript with an amazing concept, but I HATED it. Why? Because I was forcing it. The protagonist was paper thin, and the plot just okay. When I stepped back I had a dream where the characters morphed, the whole shell of the story changed, and the plot took a different slant. And it’s an epic one. I still haven’t found the energy to hammer through that one again, but it will happen–and when it does, I know what to do.

    • ^_^
      Awesome! I had a similar problem with my current project years ago. I’m always amazed by how much good a little distance does. 🙂

  7. Oh my word!! You mean that one character from a flash fiction piece I wrote a few years ago may just push her agenda and morph into a fully-fledged novella? She may not just remain as that one-off character? She’s been lurking along the edges of my subconscious for along, long time…
    To be honest, I love the idea of writing her story. It’s probably going to be a deep and gritty one. I’m a bit scared… LOL

Hi! ^_^