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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Time to Say Goodbye ... (to an old manuscript)

by Sarah

This year, I said goodbye to a manuscript. 
I worked on The Looking Glass for years. That manuscript taught me how to write. When I wrapped my mind around a new aspect of writing, I applied to it to the whole novel. I rewrote it many times, and every rewrite tackled a specific issue:  made my main character more active, fixed a sagging middle, or built a believable world. 


The Looking Glass was the manuscript I rewrote (again)  while I was in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. I met my Monkeys because of it! My mentor, Harold Underdown, taught me so much as I worked on it.

All the rewrites changed it for the better.

Until they didn't.


By the end of last August, I had a feeling that things still weren’t right. Consultations with agents at two SCBWI conferences confirmed my fears. The worst part was that I didn’t know how to fix my story. The portions I did try to revise didn't show any real improvement. 
Amy wrote a great post about when it’s time to stop revising and send a manuscript out. My manuscript met all those criteria. Except it wasn't time to send it out. It was time to put it away. 


While I dithered about whether to set The Looking Glass aside, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my sisters, a classically trained singer.


During the last year of her degree for vocal performance, she gave a senior recital, singing several difficult arias. After she graduated, she continued to improve, but she told me later that all her growth disappeared when she revisited some of those first arias. Her breathing would change. She’d loose her range. She’d carry more tension in her voice.
She couldn't return to those songs without reverting to the skill she had when she first sang them.


I was doing the same thing with my writing. 

Continuing to work on The Looking Glass limited me to the skill I had when I first began crafting it. I’d built weaknesses into the characters and the plot. All my newbie decisions were so intrinsic to the story that I couldn’t see them, let alone undo them.



I needed a new start. A partial scholarship* to a Highlights Foundation workshop gave me the impetus I needed to dive into a new manuscript. The three-month deadline for a rough draft kept me from looking back.


I was surprised at how much easier the first draft of Valiant was to write.  I knew what needed to be done. I knew the questions I needed to ask about the plot and characters. I knew the mistakes I tended to make and worked to avoid them.


Don’t get me wrong: what I had at the end of three months was rough– really rough. But the bones were good. I used every bit of craft I'd learned over the years ... instead of working around all the mistakes I'd made over the years.

Isaac Newton, speaking of his accomplishments, said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Granted, the giants he referred to were the intellectual greats that came before him. But the metaphor holds: I am convinced that a new manuscript stand on the shoulders of all the other stories we've spun. Those old stories give the new one height and depth and wisdom. 

So... if it's time, wave goodbye to your old manuscript. Give yourself permission to write the story all your earlier stories prepared you for. 

And in the meantime, have a Merry Christmas! I pray it brings you warmth and friendship and joy. 



*If you've been considering a Highlights workshop, but can't afford it,  apply for a scholarship! Now is the time of year to do so.

***Next week, the Turbo Monkeys will be on holiday with their tribes, but we've prepared some newsy little posts for you, so be sure to stop by, between the presents and the turkey. Love to you all!

17 comments:

  1. Sarah, this was a moving, positive and helpful post. It takes courage to let go and move on to the next project, especially when they are novel-length and can take months/years to complete. If you ever want another beta reader for your WIP, count me in!

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    1. So glad it was helpful, Joanna! And I may take up on that offer to be a beta reader! I hope to be ready for one in a month or so...

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  2. I had to drawer an old manuscript this year, too. I had even gone as far as to write query letters for it. Then I read a book so similar to my manuscript that I could have plagiarized it. I had had the uneasy feeling along that the plot was a repeated one from other books. Books I read after I wrote it. How do we stop rewriting other author's books?

    This was real a real painful lesson and one I don't want to repeat. Before I write a story now I'm going to research my topic to death so I don't write something that has been written before. :)

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    1. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been! So frustrating. I'm sure, though, that all your work wasn't wasted. Good luck with your next story!

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  3. It's so hard to let go of something we've poured so much of our heart into. Kudos for your strength, Sarah! And I'm loving Valiant!

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    1. Thanks, Amy! I've had so much fun with Valiant!

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  5. Sarah,

    A great post and something writers rarely want to embrace. I have many screenplays in the file cabinet...and although i don't pull them out for a dust off I often do pull a character or piece of dialogue from them for use in new works. Yay you.

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    1. I like the idea of mining old stories for characters, Craig. Awesome!

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  6. Sarah, this was really helpful and inspiring and comforting. It shows such wisdom. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with us.

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    1. Thanks, Marilyn. I think it was remembering that conversation with my sister that helped me connect the dots. She had a better idea of what was going on with her than I did with myself.

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  7. Wise words, Sarah. You've given me much to think about. Happy Holidays to you and all the Monkeys!

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    1. Thanks Linda! All the best to you, too!

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  8. A heart-felt post and one I can relate to. We get attached to our stories and our characters. We want to share them, not put them away in a drawer. But you know, some years down the line, revisit The Looking Glass. It can still work. :)

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  9. I think many writers deal with this, Ellen! And I haven't completely given up on The Looking Glass. It'll just be a few years before I come back. : )

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  10. Lovely post, Sarah. Valiant certainly does stand on the shoulders of giants :).

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    1. Thanks! Now I just need to finish revising...

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