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.


32 Responses to Letting go of stories

  1. Triona Dolan Jul 9 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Hi Jodi,

    Thank you so much for this post. 16 manuscripts is incredible! I just want to say that I think it’s so amazing you persisted until you wrote Incarnate. I find it really inspiring as I am about to embark on my 3rd manuscript (realising that my first 2 just simply don’t work) – but I don’t know if I would continue past 10 manuscripts let alone 16. You must have start writing at such a young age! At least those ideas might manifest themselves in future works…

    I agree that you learn so much with each manuscript. I am just hoping that I will learn a bit faster from now on. 😉

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      Sixteen manuscripts is a lot! And more than most, I think, but it was necessary for me. I learned so much from all the rejection and starting over. It made me better able to handle life as a published writer. (Though it’s obviously not necessary for everyone else. Hah.)

  2. JoSVolpe Jul 9 2013 at 7:22 am #

    This is great advice, Jodi. And a good reminder for me on why it’s so hard for authors to let go sometimes!
    So much work goes into each draft, that not-selling might be seen as a failure.
    But it’s not. And each manuscript makes one a better writer.

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2013 at 5:03 pm #

      Yep! It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t failing for those sixteen manuscripts. I was learning and preparing myself. Now, I proudly haul my immense pile of rejections around to library and school visits when I discuss publishing and rejection. 😀

  3. Julie Eshbaugh Jul 9 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Hey Jodi! This is such a great post. If we’re going to be writers, letting go is something we all have to learn, but it definitely seems to be against every writer’s nature. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Anita Jul 9 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Hi Jodi! Thank you for this post! I had a MS that was very difficult to let go, but somehow, I eventually came to the conclusion that you have outlined so well in this post. And now I’m working on an MS I have grown to love. You have given some excellent advice.

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2013 at 5:05 pm #

      Glad you’ve been able to move on! It’s hard letting go — and some we’ll never completely let go of — but writing something new is an important part of the process. 🙂

  5. Ifeoma Dennis Jul 9 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Sixteen manuscripts! You’re quite determined, Jodi.
    The first manuscript I queried gathered no dust and I was depressed for a few weeks after it dawned on me I had to let it go, not to mention my school grades suffered considerably at the expense of writing it.

    Luckily, a muse found me again and I started writing a story I love even more. So hope it works out, because we get really attached to our stories!
    Also, I think it’s easier letting go after you’ve come to the conclusion that your story was not really the best thing you could have written, like my I realized with my first manuscript. So we can only hope our best stories get to see the light of the day.

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      I am determined! I knew what I wanted. 🙂

      And yes — understanding that we can do better is an important part of letting go. I mean, we’ll always be able to do better, given time (which, unfortunately, stops a lot of people from ever even sending anything out), but sometimes you just have to accept that something is as good as you can make it right now, and at your current skill level, and then see what happens with it.

  6. Sandy Jul 9 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Wonderful advice 🙂

  7. Alexa Y. Jul 9 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    This is such wise advice! While I’m still toiling repeatedly over this crazy WIP I’m trying to write (that keeps changing, darn it!) and it’s my first, I think this is so, so practical. I’ll definitely be bookmarking this post for future reference!

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      My first manuscript was a learning manuscript for sure. I spent a year on just the first draft (it’s never taken that long since), and did so much rewriting and rearranging it’s not even funny. But I learned a lot and I’m glad I did it.

      Enjoy your first story. There’s nothing quite like it ever again. 🙂

  8. Pamela DuMond Jul 9 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Hi Jodi:

    Sixteen manuscripts! Yikes. You are one determined woman! Kudos!

    All your recommendations are great. I’d like to add one to your list.

    If your novel doesn’t find an agent or get picked up by a traditional publisher, you have another option. You can give your story time to breathe, edit it again and self-publish.

    Not every good story is picked up by a traditional publisher. Some find a different path.

    The novel I wrote that’s dearest to my heart did not find a lit agent or get acquired by a trad publisher. (I had an offer from a smaller press, but turned them down.) My book was handed to a successful Entertainment Manager who fell in love with it and now reps me for film and TV. We put together a pitch package for the book and he’s actively taking it out.

    I know these kinds of deals rarely happen, (especially TV.) But this never would have even been a possibility if I hadn’t believed enough in this story to publish it myself.

    Trust your instincts. There are many roads to one’s dream destination.


    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2013 at 5:21 pm #

      I was determined! I knew exactly what I wanted from publishing, and I didn’t stop until I got it. 🙂

      Self publishing is definitely an option, and I’m glad you had so much success with it!

  9. Tess Jul 9 2013 at 4:53 pm #

    Have you ever considered self-publishing your unpublished stories? I’m an avid reader with a bunch of fave authors and I’d love to read older stuff. Are there any reasons why you might not be allowed to? If the manuscript is considered good by critique partners/agents, etc?

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2013 at 5:25 pm #

      Personally? No. Self publishing isn’t something I really want to do. I don’t have the time, the knowledge, or the interest in doing all the work associated with successfully publishing a book. That may change in the future, but with those previous manuscripts, and for the time being, I knew exactly what I wanted (a major publishing house) and I decided that if everyone was saying no, there was probably a good reason — my stories probably weren’t ready yet.

      Obviously that’s just my feelings on my books, and other people’s opinions and decisions will vary! And there are stories I’m going to take out one day and overhaul them to see if my publisher wants to take them on. But . . . I only want my best work out there. 🙂

      (There might also be contractual and legal reasons I’m not allowed, but I’m not sure. It’s not really something I’ve looked into.)

  10. MaryB Jul 9 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    Just let one go. I’m really sad because it’s three years of my writing life. But I could never make it work to my satisfaction. Maybe in a couple more years, when I have more experience under my belt. Maybe it’ll just stay in my trunk. Great post!

    • jodimeadows Jul 9 2013 at 10:31 pm #

      Oh man, that does sound hard. Letting go of something you’ve spent that much time with is like tearing off a limb sometimes. (I mean, it’s how I feel letting go of the Incarnate trilogy after being with it since 2009.) But, it does free you up to work on something new and shiny, right? That’s got to be fun!

  11. Emily Kate Jul 10 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Panicked heart palpitations immediately ensued upon the first second of my eyes skimming over this post. Fortunately, upon deeper reading I discovered the happily-ever-sometimes (with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears) of the post that offers the kind of encouragement that people like myself cling to. Oh what we would do with out hope! I’m feeling inspired by your stick-to-itiveness. Thank you, Jodi!

    • jodimeadows Jul 10 2013 at 12:54 pm #

      Ahh! Sorry! I didn’t mean to frighten you with the beginning of the post. Alas, it’s something a lot of us go through. (The first one was me. And I know a few people who’ve done the second one, many with good outcomes in the end. Some are still going through it.)

      But yes, stick to it. That’s the best way to succeed, honestly! 🙂

  12. Marie Lu Jul 11 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    This is suuuuch great advice, Jodi! Letting go can be so hard, but I agree that it’s one of the most important things a writer can learn to do.

  13. Kim Jul 14 2013 at 5:35 am #

    This is a really fantastic post and great advice. Rejection can be really hard, especially when you put your heart and soul into your manuscript, but … there could come a time when you do have to let go and move on. It’s hard, but ultimately it could be worth it. Maybe the next one is the winner 🙂 Just keep thinking positively, never forget how much you love writing, and stay determined — that’s my philosophy.

  14. Emma Adams Jul 14 2013 at 6:21 am #

    This is a great post, and so true! I found it really hard to let go of my first book, but I’m glad it did, because it made it easier for me to divorce myself from future books that weren’t working. My first book was my ‘baby’ and I was afraid I’d never be able to fall in love with a story in that way again, but it was just a mental barrier I had to break past – I might not love each of my books in the exact same way, but they all mean something to me. Thanks for this post! 🙂

    • jodimeadows Jul 15 2013 at 11:04 am #

      Yes! You’ll love your new books. Nothing will be quite like that first one, but the new ones will be special, too. I’m so glad you were able to discover this.

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