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When to dig up that dusty, old manuscript… and when to let it die

Sunrise at my house yesterday – Beautiful!

On Monday, I mentioned that one of my writing goals for 2012 is to resuscitate Sliver of Souls. Sliver of Souls (SOS) was my 2009 NaNoWriMo project that I threw into a drawer promptly upon finishing it.  Here are the misguided reasons why:

  1. No one sells their first novel. SOS was my first completed novel, and who gets their first novel published?  I believed it was a training-ground – the perfect experiment in discipline and long-fiction writing so that I could dip my toes into the world of novels. I figured I would write a few more to build my skills and then try to sell my second or third novel.
  2. The subject matter doesn’t fit my personality.  SOS could be called a paranormal romance.  No ghosts or vampires, but it tells the story of Maggie, a girl who believes she’s displaying early signs of long-term schizophrenia, but is actually experiencing visions from her past lives.  I’ve always wanted to write literary fiction or historical fiction or historical literary fiction, but never dreamed of writing paranormal fiction, let alone a paranormal romance about a 19-year-old girl.
  3. I’m not a YA author. How would I spin it? Young Adult? Paranormal? YA Paranormal? I never set out to write a YA novel, and technically SOS doesn’t have to fit into this category.  However, the age of the protagonist and the “coming of age” themes that are woven throughout certainly lend themselves to this genre. To be clear, I love YA fiction, I just never thought of myself as a YA author.
  4. It’s too complicated.  It’s too cliche.  Every writer fights this fear.  It’s that damn internal editor again.  Of course it’s cliche.  It’s a first draft!  Three-quarters of the content in first drafts is cliche drivel that is cut and reworked into something more original. And, yes it’s complicated, but the ideas were clear in my mind when I set out to write it.  So with some massive revisions, couldn’t it be reworked to make the ideas more clear.

Now let me dispel those misguided myths and fill you in on the reasons that SOS has been pulled out of the vault:

  1. Lots of people have sold the first novel they ever wrote. Google “authors who sold the first novel they wrote” and you can read multiple success stories.  Take The Help by Kathryn Stockett as an example.  It was the first novel she ever wrote and she banged on doors, sent out queries and revised until she was blue in the face. Look at the success that book has had.
  2. Maybe I’m not giving my personality enough credit.  During the four busy and tenuous weeks of 2011’s NaNoWriMo, I thought back to 2009.  It should be said that I cleared the decks for my novel project in 2009, and this year I was juggling multiple projects. However, SOS came easy to me back in 2009.  I was excited to sit down every night and write.  Maggie and her band of present-life and past-life cohorts flew onto the page.  In 2011, I was excited about Ivy and her quirky mother Delilah, but it was much more like a dental extraction to get them out of my brain and onto the page.  I chalked it up to the challenge of writing about events that occurred 25 years before I was born.  But, there may be more to it than that.  I woke up a week ago with a whisper in my brain, “Maybe writing SOS was easier for a reason.” Maybe I shouldn’t pigeon hole myself as a literary/historical fiction writer.  Who says I can’t or shouldn’t write a paranormal romance? Stranger things have happened.
  3. I’m not a published fiction author – so who am I to say that I’m not a YA author? I’m a published non-fiction writer, but this fiction thing is new to me.  So again, why should I limit myself in the fiction world before I’m even out of the gate?  Maybe YA is my niche and I didn’t even know it.  I had a realization a few months ago that the majority of my fictional protagonists are females between the ages of 16 and 20. I currently have six fiction projects either on paper, in notes or swimming in my brain.  Four of the six protagonists fit into that 16-19 year old category.  Hmmm… maybe there’s something to this YA genre after all.
  4. Revision can solve many problems.  Maybe the story is too complicated – right now.  Maybe parts of it are a little cliche – right now.  But SOS also has some gems hidden amongst the blather. As much as revision terrifies me (such an overwhelming project), I also love it.  There is nothing better than pulling out my red Uniball fine-point pen and my stack of Post-it notes and getting to work tearing apart a manuscript and putting it back together.  I love the fact that I get as many chances as I want to get it right.   In the case of Sliver of Souls, I think it’s time to take advantage of those second chances.

What about you? Have you ever revived a retired project? Do you struggle with defining your perfect writing genre?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. So many great insights here, Sara!

    My brother-in-law, who is also an unpublished writer, and I were talking recently about second drafts. I was approaching mine with a sense of dread and he has never done one. When his first draft meets resistance he shelves it – a habit he’s trying to break. I think this might be a common defense mechanism of writers: if it’s not perfect the first go-round, then it’s not meant to be. While we admire the hell out of Kathryn Sockett, the horror stories of the publishing world prevent us from approaching even one closed door.

    I tend to think of my writing as YA fiction, partly because I can get by with a lower word count! 🙂 Seriously, I read a lot of YA fiction with my daughters have a desire to be part of a genre which expands young readers’ minds through thought-provoking stories.

    I think Maggie’s story sounds fascinating, cliche or not. I mean, Twilight sells, right?

    Thanks for offering up your writer’s wisdom!

    January 11, 2012
  2. Yes, yes, yes!! I totally get this. I have blogged about this before, about being so uncomfortable about what I write. I guess its looking back on War and Peace and all those other intimidating novels, thinking that those are fiction works, those are classics. Mine is horrifyingly short of their prestige. I have been toiling over the same novel for 6 years. I am on my 3rd/4th draft and intend to finish it this month and set it aside to simmer until late spring. Then I plan to roll up my sleeves, make a special box to house my rejections, and get cracking on submitting it.

    Thank you for putting this out here. Your blog is great and I really appreciate this post and your dedication to your readers.

    January 11, 2012
    • Thanks for being a dedicated reader, Bob. I’m convinced that if you’re happy with the writing, the novel is success regardless of the genre. I’ll be anxious to hear how the final edits and the simmering process play out for your WIP. Keep me posted on your progress and submittals, and be sure to let me know when I can line up to buy your War and Peace. 🙂

      January 11, 2012
  3. I haven’t revived an old project yet, but I am considering going back to my 2010 NaNo novel to both finish it and change some things around. (My antagonist was a real person, so if I want to get it published I definitely need to change that). I did love writing that story with the characters the way they are, but I want to have the chance of publishing it. So I guess some serious revision is in the future for me.
    I really don’t think about what genre I’m writing, I just write what I want to. (Usually it ends up having some elements of humor, but other than that I haven’t pigeon holed my writing yet.)

    By the way, I would love to read SOS. It sounds pretty unique and interesting to me. I hope you get the chance to publish it some day.

    January 12, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The 7×7 Link Award and the Versatile Blogger Award | Sara Toole Miller – Fiction & Non-Fiction Writer
  2. Writers Conference #1 – My ah-ha moment | Sara Toole Miller – Fiction & Non-Fiction Writer

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