Confession: When It’s Time To Move On

In 2008, I finished my first manuscript–ever. I was so proud of myself and so certain an agent would fall in love with it…None did. Within a few months, I had a towering stack of rejection letters on my desk.

After I shed few tears and swallowed my first bitter taste of the “Industry of Rejection,” I forced myself to step back and ask myself a terrible question: “Now what?”

I didn’t know what to do. Rewrite my query letter–again? Rewrite my entire book? Rethink the whole concept? Or–God forbid–put it on a shelf and move on?

After a lot of agonizing debate, I turned to the one person I could trust for an honest opinion: My mom.

In her gentlest, I’m-sorry-I’m-saying-this-to-you voice, she said, “Jenna, your story isn’t that original. I think you can do better.”

Ouchhhh!

But, yeah. As hard as it was to hear–and even harder to accept–I knew my mom was right. The story I’d written wasn’t original. It had been done and done–and done! No agent would ever want it.

So, I made my decision: Move on.

And I did. Literally. I grabbed my iPod and went for a jog, hoping the fresh air, adrenaline, and movement would get my creative juices flowing. Somehow, they did. “Shadows of the Night” by Pat Benatar came on and, like magic, a new story bloomed. I sprinted home and pitched the concept to my mom and sister.

Their reactions?

Actually, my sister’s exact words were, “That’s weird.” I decided to take that as a good thing and went to work.

And I didn’t stop for the next six years.

Six. Years!

I won’t bother going into all the nitty gritty details. Many of you already know them (and if you don’t and you’d like to, you can read my post, Confession: I Was a Shameful Closeted Writer). In a nutshell, my manuscript was optioned by a Hollywood producer, and after two long years of rewrites, revisions, and rejections from publishers my contract expired. And, suddenly, I was back to the same place I’d been four years earlier after I’d finished my first manuscript.

Only this time my heartbreak was a hundred times worse.

It took me about six months to put myself back together, but once I did, I forced myself to ask that terrible question again: “Now what?”

The answer didn’t come as easy as the first time, but I was able to accept it: Move on. So, I threw myself into an NYC Midnight writing challenge and started a brand new novel. For a few months I felt good. Really good. Happy!

Then I received an unexpected email from the producer who’d optioned my manuscript. He wanted to know if I was working on the latest draft and what my plans were for it.

I honestly didn’t know how to react. Excited? Horrified? Grateful? Resentful?

Don’t get me wrong. I loved my story and I still had dreams of seeing it on bookshelves and screens someday. But…I wasn’t ready to return to it. Emotionally and creatively, I needed to focus on something else–something new–something different. I needed to learn, grow, and explore my strengths and weaknesses. I needed to figure out who I was as a writer.

Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to my instincts. Instead, I put aside my new project and returned to the old one.

Okay, I didn’t immediately regret my decision, but as I worked day after day, week after week, month after month, I began feeling things I shouldn’t feel while working on a novel: Resentment. Annoyance. Anger.

By January–a year after I’d begun rewriting my novel–it hit me: I no longer had the passion, drive, and other traits I needed to get me through another round of rewrites, revisions, and rejections. I no longer had the stamina to reach the finish line. All I had fueling me was stubbornness, pride, and a compulsion to please others.

And that was a BIG problem.

So, once again, I forced myself to step back and ask that terrible question: “Now what?”

I knew the answer, but I struggled to accept it. How could I move on? How? I had put another year’s worth of work into this story, had sent it off to beta readers for feedback, and had a producer in Hollywood who wanted to help me. I couldn’t move on. I needed to finish it. I needed to.

But…I didn’t want to.

But I had to.

But…


At last, I did what I had done nearly seven years before, back when I had to make a decision about my first manuscript: I turned to my mom for honest advice.

Our conversation was much tougher than before, because unlike my first manuscript, this one had played a major role in our lives. For six years, it had dominated our time, minds, and hearts. It had become part of the family. But, after a lot of debating, hemming and hawing, and–finally–confessing how unhappy I was, my mom said two words that helped me make my decision: “It’s okay.”

It’s okay to let go. It’s okay to try something new. It’s okay to move on.

So, I did.

It’s been four months since I made my decision to put my old novel to rest–again–and start writing a new one. And I haven’t regretted it for a second. I know I made the right decision…even if others out there do not.

And, yes, there are people in my life who think I made the wrong decision. I’ve heard things like, “You’re so close! Don’t give up!” And, “It takes some writers decades, if not longer, to get a story right.” And, my personal favorite, “You just need to keep at it. Writing a book takes a lot of work.”

Besides rolling my eyes, these opinions haven’t fazed me. If anything, they’ve strengthened my resolve. Because, you know what? Throughout all of this, I’ve learned an important lesson:

The only person who can decide what to do with a story is the person who writes it.

Whether that means you stay with it or move on, the decision is yours. You’re the one who will have to spend days–months–years working on it. You’re the one who will have to dedicate your mind and heart to an imaginary world. You’re the one who will have to feel the sting of rejection, over and over again. You’re the one who will have to live the entire experience. Not others. You.

Therefore, you’re the one who gets to decide when it’s time to step back and ask, “Now what?”

And you’re the one who gets to say, “Stay” or “Move on.”

move-onIf moving on terrifies you like it terrifies me, remember this: Stories aren’t like people or jobs. If you change your mind, you can return to them. Whether it’s a week or twenty years, stories will always be there waiting for you to come back and finish them.

So, how about you? Have you ever had to make the difficult decision to move on from a story?

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20 thoughts on “Confession: When It’s Time To Move On

  1. Not yet no, but I’m way behind most in even thinking about publishing a book. However, you’ve taught me a lot by reading this post, Jenna. I know it’s not easy and, even though I to will have to move on, I won’t give up on my dream either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences and the difficulties.

    Not yet, but while I have been told that some of my NYC stories have novel potential, there’s only one that I have a desire to expand. I haven’t written a novel, but I know that it’s a crazy amount of work, so I only want to do it for a project that really gets *me* excited.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the only way to approach a novel: with love. Otherwise–as you read above–it’s near impossible to complete.

      I’m confident you’ll find a project you love enough to expand someday!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for expressing this and sharing personal experience. Sometimes you just want closure – to be done – and to have something to show for it. Moving on is a good thing. Maybe it is only temporary and maybe it is forever. I like your reminder that a manuscript is not the same as a job or a relationship. You can lay a manuscript aside and ignore it for however long it takes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had to drop a manuscript I absolutely loved because it ‘didn’t SOUND right’. (over and over, it didn’t sound right) Abandoned it for nearly a year, working on more manageable things. Turns out, dropping it was the best thing I could have done. After all that time, I read through it again (almost by accident) and… for some reason, those chapters I wrote all those months ago actually sounded right again.

    Sometimes leaving a story behind is the best thing you can do. Great article, Jen!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rereading this article for the 3rd time. You’re a truly impressive person, Jen; I don’t think many of us (writers) would have been able to make that hard (and wise) a decision.

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      1. Thank you! I can’t describe the relief I’ve felt the past couple of months. Being able to write what I want versus what I *had* to has made a huge difference. I’m so happy I decided to move on.

        Also happy to hear how moving on has helped you! It just goes to show how stopping doesn’t have to mean ending. It can mean catching your breath, or gaining perspective, or refueling your creative tank, or renewing your passion…or whatever you need it to mean 🙂

        Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can imagine! You can only take “have to write” so far before it starts to ruin your writing.

        It does, indeed! Sometimes knowing when to stop and take a breath (for a few years, if necessary) is the hardest part of this job. 🙂

        Like

  5. Jen I’m probably going to re log this next week! I love your posts because you are so real about your writing experience. I have yet to move on but I have a few story ideas tabled because they are stuck and I’m not at the point where I can get them unstuck. instead I work on something else and just pray the story isn’t too unoriginal! thank you for sharing and you definitely made the right choice if your heart is happy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🙂 I hope you’re able to get one of those ideas unstuck. Whenever I get stuck I either: 1) Throw in a random twist, unexpected event, or new character to mix things up, or 2) Start over and figure out where I took a wrong turn…Yeah, I know, easier said than done, lol. But maybe one of them will help?

      Good luck! And thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. thanks! both need me to start from the beginning and actually hash out a good outline. I pants both of them which lead to writing myself in to a corner. I’m more of a planner and need to stick to that

        Like

      2. Sometimes it helps to pants a first draft (or pants as far as you can before hitting a wall), and then start over and plot it out in greater detail. That tends to be my method–sort of, lol. I have faith you’ll figure it out!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I commend the courage of your decisions and I like your philosophy: Do what’s right for you, and you’ll know it.
    I’ve had people suggest that I shelve my magnum opus, but I don’t want to. I still like my story and there has been enough positive response from test readers to justify sticking with it. What I’ve had to give up on is the idea of going the traditional publication route. My project may appeal to readers, but is unlikely to appeal to the “gatekeepers” – who have much less connection to what readers want than you might think. I’ve decided on independent publication.

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  7. I have not had to make that big decision yet and if I do get there, and I hope to get somewhere with my writing, I know it will be hard to make these decisions. I think you have to follow your heart when you are writing and if it’s not there, it’s not there. It just isn’t going to work.

    Liked by 1 person

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