Monday, January 23, 2017

What To Do When You Can't Let Go Of The Story Of Your Heart

Tessa Emily Hall writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show teenagers they’re not alone in their struggles. The debut novel she penned at 16-years-old, PURPLE MOON (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) was a Selah 2014 Finalist. Her second YA novel, UNWRITTEN MELODY, released with Clean Reads fall 2016. She’s the YA Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, columnist for Broken But Priceless Magazine, and Founder of PursueMagazine.net, a magazine that inspires teens to embrace their calling. She enjoys helping other writers achieve their dreams through her role as a Jr. Agent at Hartline Literary Agency and by coaching young writers.


When Tessa’s fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, she can be found making healthy homemade lattes, speaking to teens, decorating her insulin pump, and acting in Christian films. She writes in a small town nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Southeastern coast. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website: www.tessaemilyhall.com.

I’m sure you’ve heard it advised that aspiring authors should write multiple books along their journey toward publication. I don’t necessarily disagree with this. But what if the book you’re working on is the one you long to share with others and isn’t simply a “practice novel”?

That’s what happened with my latest release, UNWRITTEN MELODY. I first brainstormed the story idea at seventeen-years-old, and I fell in love with the story while I wrote it. I didn’t feel like it should remain for my eyes only. The passion I had for it is what drove me to not only complete it, but also to continue to grow as a writer and learn how to better unveil the story.

Finally, it came time to receive the edit letter from my literary agent. The feedback she gave wasn’t what I had expected. While many of her comments were encouraging, she also highlighted on the flaws of the story—plot errors that seemed far too complicated to fix.

She presented me with two options: Rewrite the story from scratch, or begin a new project. 

I went for the second option.

Perhaps UNWRITTEN MELODY was destined to remain a practice novel, I started to think. Besides, I had grown tremendously as a writer over the years of writing and editing the manuscript. Authors have to start somewhere, right?

So, I opened a new Word Document and set off on a new project. But it wasn’t long until the main characters in UNWRITTEN MELODY started tugging my heart back to them. Their stories weren’t finished, and I knew they wouldn’t stop nagging me until I returned.



As I read over the manuscript, I knew my agent was right; the story didn’t live up to its potential, nor did it match the story I had brainstormed all those years ago.

But it wasn’t too late to change that.

So, I spent about 2 - 3 months locked in my writing cave. Using the original manuscript as reference, I created a new plot structure, wrote a brief outline, set tight deadlines, and began rewriting UNWRITTEN MELODY from scratch.

It was the most fun, draining, and exhilarating time I’ve ever spent with a project. I had the opportunity to watch the story in my imagination come to life. The book I had originally envisioned was taking shape, living and breathing, and I knew the hard work would pay off.

If you believe your work-in-progress (WIP), the story of your heart, is too “broken beyond repair”, let me encourage you: Don’t give up on it too soon. Sure, it might be easier to start fresh with a new project—but if you have a burning passion to share your WIP with others, perhaps it’s for a reason. As long as it’s your current WIP then it’ll remain just that. A work in progress. If you abandon it, though, then it’ll never be complete, and you’ll never know how it could have resonated with readers.

So how can you tell if your WIP is the “story of your heart”?

1) You’re passionate about every aspect of it—the theme, characters, setting, genre, etc.
2) Any time you try to begin a new project, you find yourself returning to this one.
3) You can’t stand the time in between your writing sessions.
4) You hardly ever have to force yourself to write. You feel an exhilarating rush as you write, and your passion gives you perseverance to see it through to completion. 
5) It’s the kind of story you would love to read if it were already on the shelves.

If the story of your heart is in need of an overhaul, don’t be discouraged! Allow it to evolve as you continue to grow and learn. Use feedback and criticism as a launching pad to help you better tell the story of your heart. Also keep up with the trends of the industry so you can see how, and if, your book fits in with the current trends of the marketplace.

If you believe your WIP is the story of your heart, yet you also realize it’s in need of a rewrite, here are steps you can take to begin:

1) Ask others to read it. Preferably find trustworthy beta readers/critique partners online. (The Go Teen Writers Facebook group is a great place to search for potential readers.)

2) Read your book from beginning to end and keep a running list of content flaws. Ignore how much you love the story during this stage and instead view it from an objective standpoint.

3) Keep your notes, feedback from your readers, and your original manuscript on hand as you write. 

4) Create a rough outline and brainstorm how you’ll fix content issues.

5) Set goals and carve out a certain amount of time each day/week to work.

6) Once you’ve finished writing, I’d advise putting it aside for a couple weeks. When you come back to the manuscript, read through your original edit notes and see if you were able to fix the content issues.

7) Edit.

8) Send to beta readers and critique partners.

9) Revise based on their feedback.

10) Wash, rinse, and repeat until necessary! 

The process of writing a book can take several years—and the publication process is often even longer. Why not choose a project you’re passionate about? One that will make it nearly impossible for you to give up on?

If you do, your passion will drip onto every page and potentially connect with readers and tug on their hearts. Sure, you might have to hang with your characters for several years as you transcribe their journey. But the passion you have for sharing their story will make it all worthwhile in the end.

Is the WIP you’re working on now the story of your heart? Have you been tempted to throw it away and begin a new project? Share in the comments below!

24 comments:

  1. As soon as I saw this post the word "ironic" came to me. I had JUST decided to scrap the book of my heart and was so devastated. But I told a detailed story summary of the book to my parent and seeing someone get exited about it made me realize my book wasn't ruined. A few minutes after realizing this I went on to this blog and saw this post!

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    1. LOVE hearing this! I know how hard it can feel to push through the doubts, but you can do it!

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    2. That’s awesome! Take it as a sign to keep going. =)

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  2. Wow. This is a heavy subject. I am currently doubting my first novel, which I rewrote and edited several times to get decent. It doesn't have as strong a plot as the sequels I am planning, which makes me wonder if it will ever be strong enough for publication, or if I will just keep rewriting and rewriting without being able to make it sharp. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic, Tessa! The tale of encouragement you told may help me redevote myself to my WIP. Great thoughts!

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    1. Glad you found it encouraging, Olivia! Every writer deals with these doubts, I believe. But there’s an amazing sense of accomplishment that comes after pushing through anyway and finishing a project. Hope it goes well for you!

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    2. Thank you! :D I'll definitely keep going after this.

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  3. Ohmygoodness, yes! I am currently writing a story I just love... And can't seem to let go. Definitely the story of my heart. My issue is that I seem lack the passion to write anything ELSE... Advice???

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    1. If there’s a story you’re passionate to finish, keep going! If you can’t seem to move on to another project once that one is complete, maybe consider writing a sequel/series?

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    2. What a brilliant idea! I sjhall try it! Thank you, Tessa!

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  4. Very encouraging post! The story I'm writing now has been in my head since I was eight or nine years old. I've put it away several times, and every time it's come back. :)

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  5. This pretty much describes a story I've been working on. I had a roleplay character who I loved, so I made her into a book character. Three times now the book has failed, but I'm trying to start what I hope will be the last Draft One. The characters are just stuck with me.

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  6. I do this a lot. It's easy for me to come up with a plot, but I'm finding out that it isn't so easy to keep writing. Your post was VERY encouraging! Thanks! :)

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  7. There's this one story that I've been trying to write for the past 7 years. I've done about four or five drafts so far, but as I was rereading it before I started the next draft, I still felt something was off, and unlike other times, I couldn't pinpoint the problem. It just wasn't there yet which is frustrating because I love the main character so much, and I know these characters so well now. It's weird - I don't even know if this is 'the book' anymore, but I have to write it because it feels like I've made a promise to the character that I'd complete it...It's difficult to know sometimes if you've just given up or if it just isn't 'the book'.

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    1. Trust me, I can relate! But even if it isn't "the book" that will one day be published, it's still helpful to finish a complete project. While you write it, you'll better understand how to piece a plot together and fix story issues. So really, those practice books are helpful as well. You never know -- it might become published some day as well. ;)

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  8. Very encouraging!
    I've scrapped "Never Trust a Unicorn" seven times over the last three or more years, once because of plot issues, another time because the narrative style no longer fit, yet another time because my skill wasn't up to the multiple-POVs. This post encouraged me to try at least one more time!

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    1. Glad to hear that you were encouraged, Rebekah!

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  9. This is so wonderful and helpful!!

    Hailey
    haileyhudson.wordpress.com

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  10. Thank you so much for this post, Tessa! I really needed to hear this as I struggle nearly everyday with doubts about my fantasy trilogy that won't let me go. I get discouraged easily and struggle with feeling like I can't write but when I keep working on it I get lost in my story, because I know deep down that it's the story for me and I someday want to share these characters with the world. Thank you!
    *Sarah

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  11. Thank you so much for this post. I was just thinking about this yesterday. <3

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  12. "Why not choose a project you’re passionate about?" Awesome line and some of the best advice you'll ever get, writers. Listen up. Thank you for hanging with us, Tessa! And Congratulations on your book!

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  13. Great post, Tessa! Always glad to hear a snippet of your story :)

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