Letting Go

There’s an important difference between giving up and letting go.” ~Jessica Hatchigan~

Have you ever asked yourself,  when is a good time to give up?  At what point do I call it a day? When do I walk away and just let go?

 I asked myself these questions about a novel I wrote a few years back. I’d submitted it to a few places but ultimately it was rejected. At the time I was disappointed, not crushed –I’ve had my share of rejections in the past– but disappointed nonetheless. Using one editor’s suggestions I decided to revise the story which took many, many hours. I felt the story idea was good and it was a story I wanted to tell. I soon found out that good ideas don’t always turn into good stories. I resubmitted it only to have it rejected again with the suggestion that I allow to the story to set for a time or else abandon it permanently since it seemed that the best part of the manuscript was the idea behind it. Ouch!  I’m being honest here. That one stung.

Writers learn to make rejection a part of our lives. We send things out, they come back, we send them out again, and again. We try and take suggestions from editors if they make sense to us. We resubmit if the editor asks us to.

So I let the story set for a time. I wrote another novel in between. No doubt I learned a bit more about writing. Having one novel under my belt certainly didn’t prove I knew everything there was to know about writing. But that other novel kept niggling away at me, staying in my thoughts.

Maybe I simply like beating a dead horse to death. Maybe I’m as stubborn as the day is long. Maybe, just maybe, I knew I had more in me to give.

Fast forward a few years. I’m hard at work rewriting that same novel I started out with several years back. I stripped it down to the bare bones and began again. Is it working this time around? I’ll let you know as soon as I can. I’ll give you a hint, don’t hold your breath. It may take some time for me to flesh it all out. What I can tell you is, that although the story has the same basic elements, it’s totally different this time around.

Now you might think I just don’t know when to give in, but I can assure you that I’ve left a trail of unfinished stories behind me, stories that I knew were just never going to make it. Sometimes the story we’re writing is just practice for the next one. I’ve had plenty of practice over the years, but I’ve also had plenty of success.

There are times, and situations in life, when the best thing to do is to simply let go, especially if we want some peace in our lives. I’m a believer in letting go, but only if letting go is the right thing to do. Other times we know deep down that giving up is not the answer no matter what others might tell us. Ultimately we know ourselves and what we are capable of. I knew I would never be happy if I let this particular story go. The editor who said that the idea is good was right. It is a good idea. So I’m back at it, giving it one more shot, one final go round before I finally willing to let it go.

At what point do you decide to let something go? Do you believe in sticking with something and seeing it through to the end? Perhaps you have a personal story to share where you were told to let something go but you then went on to succeed.

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  1. Laura, with regard to writing … there is one story I have put aside. I needed to let it go for a while to concentrate on work I knew I could do a better job with. However, I know I will use parts of that for other works and in some form or another, I will also tell that story … not just the way it began.

    Letting go and doing other work can often give us a new perspective. then when we turn back to the old work, we can either feel we did the right thing to leave it … or try to do something with it again :)

    • Distance often seems to bring us back to a story with a totally different set of eyes. What I found, when I was working with the orginal revisions, was I had the story stuck in my head. The revisions didn’t take me much further away from the original version. What I needed was to be miles away from it. Granted, there is much to be salvaged from that original version. I’ve just now realized that the story needed a good kick in the butt.

  2. With more writing experience behind you now, the story good well emerge worth publishing. I look back at earlier work and see the flaws. Some of it can be reworked, the rest was just practice.

    • That’s true, Darlene.Some work simply can’t be reworked, others can. This story feels like a good idea to me, one that I can make better. Experience is a great teacher. We also have to be willing to admit when our work is lacking that certain luster that is needed.

  3. What a coincidence. I plan to post a rejection letter tomorrow on blog. You will appreciate it I am sure.

  4. fivecats

     /  February 27, 2012

    Sounds like we’re of similar mind of giving up and letting go. I don’t like either, especially if someone else is doing the suggesting (even if it’s good counsel). That makes me more stubborn about laying it aside.

    When I wrote my first consultant report, I took a very hard position that the data didn’t support their (the client’s) conclusions. It was suggested by my proof reader that I might want to temper my wording. I said no, in that I was being paid to offer an unvarnished professional opinion and that’s what the client was going to get. While I was prepared it would probably my first and last report for the client, it has become a long lasting professional relationship. I can imagine what would have happened if I was more diplomatic in writing that report.

    • fivecats

       /  February 27, 2012

      Found a proof error … should read, “While I was prepared it would probably be my first and last report …”


      • Hey, typos make us both human, and humble. ;)

        I totally like how you stuck to your guns and it ended up being the right call. Trusting our own instincts is often exactly what we need to do. Sometimes we are too quick to try and please that we run off changing things without stopping to consider if it’s the right thing to do.

  5. A fresh start might be just what you need!

  6. My first novel took me 7 years to write. I stashed it in a filing cabinet in 1991 and didn’t look at it again until 2009. It just seemed as if 7 years should count for something. Well… it does. No, the book isn’t worth editing, but the skills I learned, I’ll never forget. That counts for something.

    Listen to your inner voice. No one else can tell you what to do. That little voice will.

    • Nothing written is ever a waste of time, so true, Joylene. This is something all writers need to keep in mind. As I mentioned in my post I’ve left a good deal of skeletons along the path, but not one of them was a waste of my time.

      That little voice is the bomb!!!

  7. I had a novel, my very first piece of writing, that was read and rejected by 3 agents. One of them told me, it was so close, she wavered, but decided no. The writing just wasn’t good enough. I had no idea what to do with it, so I did nothing. I’ve come back to it in the last months, and did you what you did – took the idea and essentially rewrote it. It wasn’t a conscious descision to re-write. It was finding a better way to show it. I know exactly what you are experiencing.

    I do have some shorts that sit and do not move. I have never edited them, never submitted them. I too think they are stepping stones. I actually write my shorts experimentally, to try out different things. I don’t expect to perfect them, I write them to learn.

    I hope you keep at it, and that the story becomes what you wish it to be.

    • So far I’m happy with what has been going on with this story. It reminds me that there are so many different ways to tell the same story. For now this feels like something I need to finosh before I move on.

      I hope all goes well with your rewrites, Jennifer. Taking a break is sometimes the best medicine for a writer.

  8. What about reading? I can let books go as a reader. If I’m not enjoying a book, I don’t feel compelled to finish it. My husband finishes every book he starts, no matter what.

    • Letting go of books that I’m not enjoying is also tough. I have had a few. It has to be pretty awful, though, before I walks away.

  9. I let something go when it just isn’t working no matter what I do. When I’m no longer thinking about the story or characters on a daily basis, then I know its time to let it go and follow a new lead. Someday I may come back to it or it may sit in a drawer and never see the light of day again. Every project is a stepping stone towards learning something new, even when it goes unfinished. :-)

    • Thank goodness for those stepping stones we’ve found in our paths. You make a good point in saying that if you stop stinking about the character or the story that it might be time to let it go. When a story keeps coming back to us that’s probably a sign to at least give t a try.

  10. I took a Writer’s Workshop on Sunday, which I’ll be blogging about soon, and the instructors told me how many stories of theirs has been rejected or thrown away or like yours, revisited later.
    It was quite opening. :)

  11. Laura, you’ve already set the story aside to ripen and it hasn’t left your mind. It means there’s something there you feel compelled to share. You could wait another ten years or another hundred, but the story may never rest in peace until you finish it. I think you’re on the right path by stripping it and rebuilding it.

    It’s like taking apart an old chimney brick by brick. The bricks are still good, but somewhere along the way the whole thing began to lean and a few bricks fell out. It simply needs to be taken down, reconstructed and a few new bricks added.

    I’ve abandoned plenty of stories. Sometimes I dredge them up and finish them, but only if the story plays on my mind, nags me to finish it. If the story is easily forgotten then I feel it wasn’t worth exploring anyway.

    Be stubborn. It’s an important characteristic a writer needs.

    • I do feel as though I owe it to this story to remain stubborn. Already, it has reinvented itself, and I’m anxious to wade through. I treaded lightly, however, I think the very first version I jumped in so quickly, was so eager to tell the story that I forgot some of the things I had learned.

      Thanks for the words of encouragement. :)

  12. I’ve never been inclined to return to my first couple shelved novels, but the third keeps intruding on subsequent work. I revised it umpteen times and rewrote it once in a different tense before setting it aside. It’s a story I want to tell, but it might yet take another rewrite. For now I’ve left it in favour of other things. I honestly don’t know if anyone else would think it’s worth resurrecting. I hope this go-around works for you and the effort pays off.

    My current w.i.p. is lagging. I haven’t been writing any non-fiction over the past year and I think I’m really missing it. That’s where my voice is clearest, and I seem to develop more enthusiasm for everything when I can move between working on an article and delving into my fictional world. I’m committing myself to participate in a couple March Madness writing efforts. Maybe the accountability aspect will help my focus.

    • They say our first novels are simply practise. While I think that is true for many of us it isn’t necessarily true for us all. Dang it!

      Hopefully once you get back to writing non-fiction you’ll feel inspired to work on your fiction again. Changing things around a bit can often make a difference. What I found when I revised that novel the first time was that it was all too fresh and I thought it had to follow much of the original story. I didn’t think to look past what was aready there. This time I am. Hoepfully it will make the difference or at least get the whole thing out of my system once and for all.

      Best of luck with the March Madness!

  13. I think it’s easy to let go and then go back to it at a later time. though, for me, I fear, I don’t let go as I should. I actually have been writing the same story for almost two years but I carry on because I couldn’t just leave it. but I’ll probably eventually leave it alone and then go back to it.

    still, not everything one writes has to have an utilmate end. I mean, people do go back and edit their work even after many edits and polish and even after it is printed and bound. I think of all those classic books that gets edit and re-release with the original material and how much people complaint when something is cut. it’s neverending. but letting go even for just a day or a year is not such a bad thing.

    • Taking a break often helps me as I’m finding with this current project. It really needed to be rewritten but I couldn’t seem to see past the original story. I was really stuck.

      You’re right, I’ve heard of authors who go back and work on stories after they’ve been published especially if they’re bringing them out in another volume. As writers we work at something for as long as we need to. WE are the only ones who can decide when it is finished.

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