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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Photo credits: giphy

Make Your Opening Pop!

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! On Saturday, I will be attending the 2014 Colorado Writing Workshop run by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. Yay! And eeks! I’m a mixture of excited and nervous at this point. I’ve never attended a writing workshop before, so I’m a little out of my element. However, I’m confident I’ll learn a lot!

One of the many sessions scheduled during the workshop is the “Writers’ Got Talent” panel. If attendees wish to do so, they may submit the first page of their manuscript to have it (anonymously) read out loud and evaluated by a panel of agents and editors. As nerve wracking as this is, I plan on submitting my first page in hopes it will get chosen to be critiqued. I’d love to hear what works and what doesn’t by industry professionals.

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Ironically, I came upon this article by Margie Lawson this week: Margie’s Rule # 6: Make Your Opening Pop! In it, she discusses the do’s and don’ts of your story’s opening, as well as what turns agents and editors off. As I refine my first page before the workshop this weekend, I will be referring to this article to ensure I avoid making too many general “no-no’s” and blunders.

Margie’s Rule # 6: Make Your Opening Pop!

I’ve talked to dozens of agents and editors about what makes them stop reading submissions. We’ve chatted on planes and on yachts, in several countries, on several continents. We’ve chatted at luncheons and dinners and late nights in bars.

Some agents and editors shared general ideas regarding why they quit reading.

They said things like:

First paragraph didn’t impress me.
Story didn’t hold my interest. I wanted to skim.
Couldn’t connect with characters.
The writing was amateurish.
Many shared the dreaded, “I don’t know why, but it didn’t work for me.”

Aack! Not useful for writers.

Writers need to know what to avoid doing, and what to do. They need specifics…

To read the entire article and see all the genres, click here!

For more useful advice, follow Margie Lawson on Twitter!

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Photo credits: 

http://kristiholl.net/writers-blog/2013/10/organization-why-word-count-matters/ 

http://joshuamowll.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/first-novel-first-chapter-first-doubts-10-strategies-for-starting-your-story/

http://rebloggy.com/post/reese-witherspoon-legally-blonde-ifc-movie-elle-woods-inspired-me-to-go-to-la/26794435369

Music Monday – Tomorrow Belongs To Me – Cabaret

Welcome to Music Monday! As many of you know, music contributes a great deal to my writing process. Whether it’s a song’s lyrics, beat, rhythm, or tone, I find myself constantly inspired by it.

writing-to-musicFor quite some time, I’ve debated about sharing this week’s Music Monday choice with you. It revolves around a controversial topic that I’ve been scared to connect myself with in any way.

However, I’ve realized many songs are controversial in their own way, and just because I like one doesn’t mean I agree with its message. In fact, I so strongly oppose this song’s message, it’s exactly why I love it. “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” from the musical Cabaret makes me angry, sick, and horrified…which, let’s face it, is an excellent combination of emotions to feel when creating a villain and/or conflict, right?

10278_show_portrait_largeTo put it simply, this song is evil. It might not sound like it. Actually, when you first hear it, you’ll likely think it’s beautiful and sweet–motivational, even. But once you stop and listen to the lyrics, you’ll quickly realize what’s being sung about and your stomach will drop and your heart will sink.

The babe in his cradle is closing his eyes
The blossom embraces the bee
But soon says the whisper, arise, arise
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs to me

cabaret_tomorrow_belongs_to_meYes, this song is about the rise of The National Socialist Party before World War II, and yes, it’s downright horrible.

“Tomorrow Belongs To Me” drips with supremacy, arrogance, and bloodlust. What makes it even more disturbing is the actor who performs it in the video below. The fact that he basically has the voice and face of an angel makes it a hundred times creepier and sickening.

So, if you’re looking for a song to inspire the evilness and corruption in your story, listen to this one.

What song(s) are you in love with right now? Which one(s) offer you inspiration? Let me know! I’m always searching for songs that motivate my writing.

Photo credits: 

http://michaelgalvis.com/

http://www.newyorkcitytheatre.com/theaters/studio54/cabaret.php

http://cinema-fanatic.com/2013/02/04/oscar-vault-monday-cabaret-1972-dir-bob-fosse/

Creating Kick-Ass Characters

Confession: I found today’s Twitter Treasure on Tuesday, but you know what? This diamond in the rough was just too bright and glittery to tuck away, especially with NaNo starting TOMORROW! So, if you’re having problems with developing your characters, or just want some last minute tips, check out this post on Chuck Wendig’s blog:

THE ZERO-F****** QUICK-CREATE GUIDE TO KICK-ASS CHARACTERS (AND ALL THE CRAZY PLOT STUFF THAT SURROUNDS ‘EM)

Characters are not a fast soup — they’re a long-bubbling broth developing flavors the longer you think about them and, more importantly, the more you write about them. (Which one assumes is the point of the inane questions asked by many character exercises, which would be a noble effort if those questions were not so frequently concerned with details and decisions that will never have anything to do with your character, your story, or your world.)

PS_0065_HERE_ASS

Happy Halloween everyone! Stay safe, have fun and make sure to eat lots and lots of chocolate!

I’ve chosen my NaNoWriMo project – finally

I know it’s late in the game to make this important decision, but I’ve finally made it. For NaNoWriMo, I’m going to work on my young adult novel, Fallers.

For those of you who don’t know the background on this already, Fallers was originally optioned back in 2011 by a producer in Hollywood. Unfortunately, despite its “golden” concept, it never found its way off the cutting room floor. Instead of skyrocketing to bookshelves across the globe as I was told it would, it shriveled up on my computer and died a slow painful death.

rip-tombstoneThis past summer, I sadly, but firmly, put Fallers to rest, and after drying my tears and giving myself a sharp mental slap, I embarked on a new project (the “other” story I was considering for NaNo). But, wouldn’t you know it? Fallers refused to be silenced so easily. It kicked and clawed its way out of Jen’s Creative Cemetery and stomped its way back into my life, bringing with it new ideas: A new story structure, new characters, new twists and turns. A NEW story!

So, I’m going to give Fallers v.2 a chance. I’m going to use NaNo to discover what its new story is and if that story is powerful enough to do what Fallers v.1 couldn’t do–dazzle and delight and inspire. If not, then I’ll be putting it to rest for good…I think 😉

Good luck NaNo participants! And remember:

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