Friday, February 10, 2012

When It's Time to Say Goodbye to Your Manuscript

You ever have that perfect pair of jeans you simply adore--or that's a perfect fit? For my two oldest daughters, it's shoes. You know those ones with the tiny heels that click-clack across the floor or leave thousands of sparkles in their wake. They wear them until they're no longer wearable, or sometimes even grow out of them, and have to say goodbye. They don't want to, sometimes there are even tears, but when the sole falls off or the shoes don't fit anymore, Mommy knows best. And what she knows is that it's time to say goodbye to those shoes.

Just like with those shoes or our favorite pair of jeans, we have to know when to say goodbye to our stories. Sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.

We all do it. We get attached to a story we've created and have high hopes for it. It's sparkly, like those shoes, a perfect fit, like those jeans. We want to see it through to publication, through all the edits and all the way to the end, where we see it in reader's hands, getting rave reviews. But there are times when it's better to set that story aside, even if we feel it's very special.

From a lot of years of experience and hanging onto novels too long, I've come up with some good indicators that it's time to move on from your novel.

When Feedback Isn't Where It Needs to Be

Whether your feedback is from beta readers, critique partners, or even contest judges, if you're getting consistent feedback that a lot of your story needs work, take a step back. If knowledge of the craft is lacking, step back. Put your manuscript aside, do some study of the craft and some research about topics you need to improve on. Then you can either return to your story or start a new one if the old one isn't salvageable.

When It's Your First Manuscript

Before I get in trouble, let me just say this is a general suggestion. Sometimes someone will write that first manuscript and it's awesome! Agents love it, editors want it, and there's no problem. But for most writers, that first manuscript is a starting point. A tool to learn and see where your skills are, or even to see if writing is for you at all.

When You Can't Read Through the First Few Chapters Without Skimming

Once you've received feedback or are working tirelessly to edit, sometimes it's hard to see your story with a clear eye. If you find you're skimming paragraphs or chapters, you're not going to be able to edit your story how it needs to be reworked. Take a break and return to your editing later.

When the Thought of Editing Another Few Times Makes You Cringe

If you're seriously tired of editing, you've hit that point like, as I said above, it's going to be hard to edit your story how it needs to be edited. Again, take a break. A few weeks, sometimes even a few months, gets the story out of your head enough that you can return to it with fresh eyes. And in the meantime, work on something else that will help you. Study craft books, learn from agents or author blogs, even start plotting a new story so you have something else to work on once those edits are finally done.

When You're Too Close to the Manuscript

I have to put this one in here because I've done it before. I've gotten so close to the manuscript, it's hard to see that anything might be wrong with it. It's hard to realize that extensive editing, or at least some editing, might be necessary before trying to submit it. You need perspective here. And sometimes when you return to that manuscript, you realize it's not ready, and maybe it's time to step away from that story for good.

When the Market, Agents, Editors, or Your Heart is Calling For Something Else

I'm not saying you should be swayed by trends or stop a manuscript dead in the middle of writing it. But I am saying that once you finish a manuscript, find that perspective. See if it will fit in the market. See if you have passion to work and rework it. Pray about it. Also, don't be afraid to acknowledge that your book might just be a stepping stone to get you to something bigger and better, whether it be a new genre, or even a new outlook on the way to craft a book.

Have you had a hard time stepping away from your novel or novels in the past? What helped you do so, and was the separation permanent?

***photo by andygeers

Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Great post, Cindy! I have experienced all of your points! lol My first manuscript keeps getting awards, so I've had a hard time putting it away. But I have finally started on another story and it feels GOOD! :)

Sometimes you just have to move on and trust God's timing.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Here's what helps me put a manuscript away: I tell myself I can always come back to it. I'm not "throwing it away." I'm just "storing it for now."
Much less painful.
And, who knows? I just might get back to that ms I just put in the virtual drawer -- or not. We'll see.

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for the insightful post, Cindy.

I've put four manuscripts aside. There's my first historical romance, which was around 250K words replete with overblown descriptions, numerous POV characters, and next to no sensory detail. Six brave friends read it for me, and they'll be the only ones to see it in its present state. I soon realized not to show it to anyone else.

I wrote three more historicals that made the contest circuit. Some did OK, but in talking with publishing pros, I learned that the stories need a good deal of work before they'd be marketable.

And then there's my unfinished contemporary romance. This experiment proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that, at this point in my career, my voice lends itself to historicals.

All four of those manuscripts reside in the recesses of my hard drive. As Beth said, they are in storage. I couldn't bring myself to part with them. Someday I might use aspects of them in a new story.

Jeanne T said...

I'm not there yet, Cindy. :) I appreciated your points though. I'm working on my first ms, with the intent to see it through. If for nothing else, then for the experience I'm gaining by walking through each step of the process. :) I don't know if I could ever throw something I wrote away, but I could definitely put it into storage, if/when that time comes. :) Thanks for your insights!

Heidi Chiavaroli said...

Great advice, Cindy! I had a hard time letting go of my first novel. All in all, I spent a sporadic seven years working on it. Finally, I accepted that there was nothing more I could do--on to the next.

Thanks for this post!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sherrinda, first of all, that's great about those awards. You have one of those first manuscripts that's doing a lot of the right things, and that's great! Trusting God's timing is a big part of it. And moving on doesn't mean that first manuscript is gone, especially if it's doing that well. Hold onto it for later!

Hi Beth. That sounds like a good way to do it. Sometimes it feels like a betrayal, just setting those manuscripts aside after all that hard work, but it doesn't mean we can't come back to them later when we know a lot more.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Keli, that's a lot of work! I think you make a great point that sometimes it takes a manuscript or more to not only learn the craft better but also to see where our voice really fits. Thanks for sharing.

Jeanne, oh my gosh! Did you say "throw it away", as in, the trash? :) That's scary. I think it's funny that even when we have manuscripts we are certain will never see the light of day again, we still hold onto them. I commend you for saying you're going to see your manuscript through. It's wise to write "The End" AND to work on editing or get feedback so you can see where you are at this stage. Thanks for stopping by!

Heidi, wow! Seven years is a long time. I bet you were so excited to finally finish it. I can't imagine how hard it was to let that one go, though.

Lindsay Harrel said...

I'm with Jeanne at this point. Revising my first ms right now and going to send it out to beta readers and enter it into a few contests. I think once I see the feedback, I'll know where I need to go from there. Either way, I'm hoping to move on to writing a second soon.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Lindsay, congrats on finishing your first manuscript! That's a wonderful accomplishment. I'm glad you're working to get feedback to see where you stand. All the best on your next manuscript!

Casey said...

I've hit that point with 1 1/2 MS's and possibly soon with my first contemporary. I'm not one who wants to quit early, so it's hard for me, but I do understand the value, as you said of stepping back and looking with a critical eye. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Casey, seeing that it's time to get a fresh perspective is usually the first and hardest step. So, yay, you're not in denial! :) I can't wait to see what you work on next.

Susan Anne Mason said...

I'm sure this resonates with most writers. I've done this with at least 4 manuscripts. The good news is that as we grow our skills, sometimes when we go back to a previous story, we know where we went wrong and now have the tools to fix it!

Great post!


Cindy R. Wilson said...

Sue, you're right! That is good news. Especially because that's one of the most important parts of the writing journey--learning and growing. Have a super weekend!

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

I appreciate so much the way Beth said it-- the setting it aside "for now."

I'm trying to do that with my multiple-revision 1st mms. It's just "so close" that every time I see a cool contest I think, "I should just finish banging that one out and know what (official-type) people think...

My second mms keeps calling to me though, and that I want to go work on that (not the least b/c it deals with sanctity-of-life issues close to my heart) make me feel like I'm "cheating" to go to the "sexy 'new' story."

And #2 isn't not finished, either, so it's decidedly more (and different) work before I can shove it into the light of day. Forces delaying gratification, you know?

But I read something recently about HOPE (dreams, desires, however you want to say it): No one is ever going to hand you a notarized certificate of your hope. You have to pick something and just go for it.

And I'm sticking my toes over the ledge on this one...

Never mind. I'll have to jump or nothing will ever happen.

I'm moving on.
There. I made the decision. I am officially in the business of finishing novel #2.

Cheers, people. (And thanks for your words, Cindy.)

Andria said...

Good post! Once we've put time and energy into something, it's hard to let go, even for a little while. Writing is such a love/hate relationship. After spending so much time on something, it's easy to get sick of it. But the piece is also our baby, we want to see it happy and finished!

I also struggle with knowing when to let something go vs. when I'm just feeling insecure or dragging my feet about my writing and need to press through.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Amy, I'm glad you found some good direction! I am a big fan of finishing what you start, especially with writing. It will prepare you for deadlines and such in the future, so yay for committing to finish number 2. And thanks for stopping by!

Andria, you bring up a good point. It IS a struggle sometimes to know whether it's best to put your novel aside when you need more perspective, or if you're just setting it aside because it's hard, or your stuck, or whatever the reason. I think praying about it, as well as sitting down an maybe even writing a list of what is making you stick around with that manuscript (or on the opposite side, what is making you want to move on). Have a great weekend!

Sarah Forgrave said...

This is an awesome post, Cindy. Great pointers on a topic that I think everyone has questioned. :)

Laura S. said...

These are terrific tips, Cindy. I know exactly how it feels when I've edited something so much the thought of continuing is dreadful. That's when I know it's time to move away or move on! Setting the MS aside does wonders for it later.

Awesome post!