Ghosts of Projects Past

How do you know you’re a “real” writer? When you can’t not write. When, despite all the rejections and self-doubt, your brain keeps conjuring new stories. There have been months-long stretches when I felt tapped out and wrote barely anything—this year in particular. But a recent browse through a forgotten “Fiction” folder on my computer reminded me that I’ve given up plenty of times before … and eventually started over.

There’s the chick-lit novel I wrote in the mid-90s, Bridget Jones era. A light but heartwarming story of a single gal in the big city and her series of misunderstandings with a guy who may or may not be The One. Except it wasn’t that funny and was clearly a knock-off of much better books. No wonder the agents I sent it to never responded.

Or how about the “steamy” romance I was going to publish under a pseudonym? I finished that one, too, and it was escapist fun to write. That one never sold either, for good reason. Turns out the romance was more cringy than sizzling. (Say what you will about Fifty Shades of Grey, it takes a certain talent to write multiple, pages-long sex scenes.)

Then there are my many (many!) false starts: the books I began writing but never finished. Some are just a first chapter; others made it to 50 or 100 pages before running out of steam. A single-mom romance. A series of fairy-tale retellings. A mystery inspired by a Shakespeare play. A suspense novel about two frenemies. A suburban family drama. It would be easy to scroll through all those files and see nothing but failure. But I’ve realized that all those pages are, in fact, proof that I’m a “real” writer. They taught me to be resilient, to pick myself up after a rejection, to not be afraid of trying out new ideas. Most importantly, they made me better.

If you’re a writer with your own stack of false starts, remember that the work you put into them wasn’t wasted. Every page you agonized over represents an investment in your craft. And it can be wonderfully empowering to read your earliest efforts and realize, “Wow, I’d never write something that awful now!”

And who knows when one of those zombie projects might spring back to life? My frenemies story still has potential…


  1. C Lemonthay on December 1, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    Inspiring story, Elizabeth! I certainly have a “graveyard” full of past projects. And it’s such fun to dream up pseudonyms.
    Wonderful thinking to consider resilience proof of a real writer. Cheers!

  2. Kathy Ryan on December 2, 2020 at 1:26 pm

    You most definitely are a real writer but I understand that self doubt. It’s tough being in the in-between places and trusting that you’re still on your path. You inspire me!

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