Learning to let go: Sarah Dessen sets aside novel-in-progress

I realized this past summer that I missed a Sarah Dessen book. I don’t know how I let that happen. I blame my transition into adult working life for this mishap. Regardless of the reason, when The Moon and More was released in June, I discovered that I also needed to read What Happened to Goodbye. So I had myself a Sarah Dessen summer, which was a pleasantly nostalgic experience. I associate many of the events of my late high school and early college years with the Sarah Dessen book I was reading at the time: junior prom, Just Listen; winter break senior year, This Lullaby; summer before college, Lock and Key.

Then, more recently, I caught wind of some Sarah Dessen news, and my subsequent series of reactions was perhaps a bit melodramatic: momentary doubt, succeeded by surprise, followed closely by intrigue. Apparently this superstar author of 11 YA novels had decided to drop the story she was working on. I needed to investigate. I went to her official website, and sure enough, her most recent blog post was entitled “Abandoning. And listening.

I actually highly recommend this blog post not only to Sarah Dessen fans anxious to know more, but also to all aspiring writers. Sarah has a lot of good things to say about knowing when to let go of a writing project. She shares the emotional turmoil of “abandoning” a project, but she also describes the first time that she learned to trust her gut, and how her gut was providing answers without a trace of doubt: “For me, it was not ‘Give up on this book, you know, if you want.’ It’s like Darth Vader voice: PUT IT ASIDE. NOW! NOW!!!!’”

According to her blog, Sarah started working on a new story in January 2013, but it wasn’t right. She battled against her story from the start, both internally and on the page, and there were many times that her experience contradicted her typical style and process. Acting on advice from a friend, Sarah is determined not to publish a book that does not measure up to her standards. We’ve all seen too many of those novels, and the authors aren’t fooling anyone. We, the readers, we can tell. I commend Sarah for honoring the quality of her craft. With humor and grace, she speaks candidly about her trials and her fears and the finality of her decision. Fans will surely be disappointed by the wait (her story had been on track to be released summer 2015), but wait they will, for the honesty of this acclaimed writer’s decision is admirable.

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