Yes, You CAN Toss That Manuscript

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My new online critique group sent our first batch of work this past week. I wasn’t ready to send my current WIP (work-in-progress), and everything else just didn’t fit the word count, or I didn’t need feedback at this time. So, instead, I sent the first chapter of the failed NANOWRIMO I attempted a few years ago. I made it to 17,000 words and promptly lost my fizzle. I tried, believe me, I tried. I went back again and again to revise, to add to it, to just finish the first, shitty draft. But, alas, nothing. To say I was blocked isn’t quite right. I got words down. But they were so lacking sincerity, passion, or any ounce of interest from me, that the story just broke down. It was like the literary version of the relationship you try to make work, but there’s just no chemistry. Nice story, and all. Just not for me.

When I met the author Elizabeth Berg a couple months ago I rose my hand during the Q&A and asked her what to do when you lose steam on a project. She told me in her experience that usually means a breakthrough is right around the corner. This bolstered me on; it gave me hope. However, no offense to the lovely Ms. Berg, but in my case, in this particular story, I just don’t know that a breakthrough is possible. However, despite all the story’s shortcomings (or mine, as an author), I simply am not ready to let go. This tells me that even giving myself permission to toss it isn’t enough to make me want to. I must still have something there. And so that’s why I sent the first chapter to my group. So far I got one critique back. Positive. She wants to know more. I felt a flicker of excitement reading those words. Maybe, just maybe, I do have a story in there after all.

In my case, the ending here remains to be seen. Perhaps I will revise until my fingers are numb from typing (it probably needs that much work), or maybe I’ll hack away until it’s a short story instead of a novel-in-progress-wannabe. Maybe it’s worthy of a second, or third, or fourth look. Maybe I’m not ready to toss it. But if you have a similar situation, I’m telling you its okay to quit it. A caveat here- if you’re someone who has yet to finish a draft of anything- please ignore everything I’m about to say here. Go finish a draft. Then when you have something finished under your belt, you can have the somewhat indulgence of destroying your work. In the meantime, write.

Okay, enough there. You see, I know I’m not a quitter. I’m not a manuscript-tosser. I’m not someone who always begins projects but never finishes. I’m not judging any of those, by the way. But I don’t want to encourage anyone to set aside a WIP that has potential. And not even that has potential. It’s fine if it’s hard. It’s fine if it’s so fucking hard to write sometimes that you can barely see the light at the end. That doesn’t make it worthy of giving up on it.

So, in my opinion, what is a worthwhile reason to give up? The only reason, and I think it’s perfectly legitimate, is because you have lost your passion for that specific work. If you have lost your passion for writing in general, that’s a whole other situation (sadz). But if you love to write- need to write- and just find yourself unable to force excitement, ideas, or joy over a story, then maybe it’s time to put it aside.

But first, ask yourself these things. Literally, ask yourself. Get a pen and paper. Write down your answers:

 

  1. Can I change the genre/style/format? Maybe you’re trying to stretch a novella into a novel and it just doesn’t work. Is making it longer wigging you out? Maybe you can’t muster enthusiasm because the story is already complete. Or maybe you have a really hilarious novel that just doesn’t make you laugh. Would it be funnier, and more meaningful to you, if you told it as the memoir it really is?

 

  1. Do I just need a break? Is the content too difficult to write at this time? When I was writing Ditch Flowers, I often took LOOOOOONG personal breaks from the story. Because I found the subject of recurrent pregnancy loss particularly difficult to write based on my real-life experiences, I had to step aside. However, I always came back missing the story, and anxious to return to it. Is your story too much for you to handle because it’s hitting close to home? Take a break. Work on another story. Write a poem. Go for a walk. Go see a movie. Then ask yourself if you care enough to sit back down and write some more.

 

 

  1. How would I feel if it got lost? I have experienced computer crash crisis on more than one occasion and it induced in me a panic almost incomparable to anything else. The thought of all those words- poof!- gone, was horrible. When I think of the 17,000 words of my failed NANOWRIMO story going buh-bye, I do feel upset. I worked hard for those words. Just because the sidewalk ended there (so far) doesn’t mean I don’t want to return. Would you be sad if your work got destroyed in a fire? Disappeared into cyberspace and never came back? If you’d be sorry to have it all gone and not get it back, maybe you’re not ready to really say good-bye.

 

  1. Have I gotten feedback? I understand not wanting people to read your work at times. Just like I stated above, in my current WIP (Witch Lessons), I haven’t sent to my critique group because I’m still working on it and don’t want their feedback to flavor my story yet. But before getting rid of anything, try to have a trusted friend or reader go through it. Maybe they’ll smack you on the forehead with the pages and say, “Don’t you DARE throw this away! It’s genius!” or, maybe they’ll tell you all the things that didn’t work for them, and a few things that did. There’s a chance they’ll say it is total crap, too. But the point is, you will never know another person’s opinion if you don’t give them a chance. As a writer I don’t just write for me. I write to share my words, my characters, my stories. Don’t toss out overbaked chocolate chip cookies without letting a friend have a sample. You might be overly critical. Maybe they taste just fine.

 

 

  1. Do I really, truly, care? That’s a simple question that can be incredibly difficult to answer. Do you really care about that WIP you’re wavering on? Do you care about the people in the story? Do you care about the plot points? And if, and when, you finish it, do you care enough to do the work to promote, query, publish, and market it? Because writing is only part of the battle, my friends. And if you’re not passionate about the story you’ll have a hell of a time selling it.

 

  1. If I had a magic wand, what would I do with this story? I know my answer. I’d magically figure out my gaping plot holes, tie up loose ends, fix dialogue, and create stronger characters. I’d finish the shit out of this story. And then I’d get it published. It would be awesome. So, yeah, that’s what I would like to happen. What about you? And what exactly will it take for you to make that happen, sans wand???

 

There. That’s it. Six questions to help you decide. If your answers are no, no, no, blah, whatever, then you have your actual answer. Get rid of it. You have my permission, if that’s what you need. Give it to yourself, too. It’s okay not to finish every story. It is okay to write 2/3rds of a story and then give up. Do you want to make it a habit? Heck no. But if you really don’t care you have to stop wasting your time. Focus on other things that make you feel giddy inside. Read a lot, and write even more. Do some soul-searching. Maybe as a writer you’ve been going in the wrong direction. Steer yourself another way. In the meantime, I’m going to await feedback from the rest of my group. And ask myself the 6 questions, slowly and honestly. I bet I’ll even surprise myself.

 

Writers, tell me, do you have a piece that fits this blog post? What’s stopping you from working on it? Have you ever given up on a work and come back to it later with success?

 

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Amanda

 

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