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Letting go of stories
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You have a novel that you've been working on for months. Maybe years. You give it to critique partners. You revise it. With the help of a few friends, you write the perfect query letter and begin that exciting but terrifying adventure of sending out the manuscript, getting your first rejections or requests.
But ultimately, they're all rejections.
Or what about this: An agent loves your book and takes it on. You revise with her. She sends it out to editors. You obsess, stalk, and jump every time your email dings. Your first rejections feel like battle scars, and you wear them with pride. (After all, you know it's rare that someone gets an overnight offer from the first editor to read the manuscript. You're reasonable; you don't expect to be that kind of exception.) Anyway, your agent still loves the manuscript. She hasn't given up.
But then more rejections come, and your agent suggests taking the manuscript off submission to revise based on editor feedback. She still thinks the manuscript will sell, but secretly you're wondering whether she's disappointed and ready to give up. (It doesn't matter that she's never given you a reason to believe that this is the case. You are an author. Therefore you do a lot of projecting and wondering and developing feelings based off these sad fantasies.)
So: more rejections. This manuscript—the story of your heart/your book child/the thing you daydream about every five minutes—is not going anywhere. And you have to start wondering: Is this story done? You've made it as good as you possibly can, and your crit partners and/or agent love it. They think it's good enough to be published.
What are you supposed to do now? How do you let go of something so important to you? How can you just move on?s
If you have an agent, this is something you can (and should) talk to them about. If you don't have an agent (or don't yet feel comfortable bringing it up), grab your most understanding crit partner/friend and start discussing.
But here are a few thoughts:
1. Fall in love with a new story. You should have been writing something new this whole time. Maybe you don't love it the same way yet, or you're struggling to connect with it because you're not over the last one. But try to immerse yourself in it. Find the seed of the story you loved enough to make you put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard). Remember that you started this new story for a reason. Find that reason again, and dive in.
2. When you get published, you'll need to divorce yourself from your story, anyway. You might as well start learning how to let go of things now. After all, you don't want to get stuck on this one story for the rest of your life, right? You want to be able to write more stories and have a career? Learn how to let go. It's good practice for getting published.
3. It takes time to let go. After all, you've spent months (or years!) of your life with a story. Letting go isn't as easy as flipping a switch. Allow yourself to grieve, but don't let that grieving period linger too long. If you can't write something new just yet, go do something new. Have an adventure. Open your mind to new thoughts and ideas. Read a lot. Ask "what if?"
4. You can always come back to your first story. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not even next year. But one day you can pull it out and look at it like new. If the market isn't right for that story now, maybe it will be in the future. Or maybe you'll learn something about writing that will enable you to come back to the story and revise it into shape.
I wrote sixteen manuscripts before I wrote Incarnate. At some point, I had to let go of every one of them. There are stories I'd still like to tell one day—rewrite them and see if I can find a home for them. Just because I've moved on doesn't mean I don't love those stories anymore, or that they're any less important to me. Every one of them taught me something new about writing, about the stories I like to tell, and where I'd like to be on bookstore shelves.
Like I did with those sixteen manuscripts, you have a choice: Tell yourself this story is it, and if it doesn't succeed, then there's nothing else.
Move on. Loosen up that death grip on the story and allow yourself to work on something new.