I am graced with a clear minded, articulate friend who also happens to give me feedback on my work. A blessing that, all writers know, doesn’t come often.
In a recent email exchange that included me agonizing about whether to rewrite a prior novel again she had this to say:
Feel free to put your current work in a drawer and move on. Writing is a game of volume. Sometimes you write something just to learn from it. Then you write the next thing, and learn from it. Some of the best writers I know have five, six, seven, ten, completed manuscripts in a drawer, before their ‘debut’. And those guys are the ones who knock people’s socks off when they finally do publish. What I am saying is, if new ideas are calling you, go forward. Don’t feel like every story MUST get published.
I am not saying don’t keep trying with what you’ve already done, I am saying follow your passion. Write where the juice is. You’re good. Just keeping doing it.
First of all, the encouragement was welcomed and needed. The idea, however, of seven dead novels made my feel like tossing my laptop out the window and crawling under the bed myself. Which, coincidentally, is where I put my abandoned manuscripts.
On one hand, I look at my first novel and thank God and all those cranky rejecting agents that it wasn’t published. It wasn’t ready. Even though the plot was kick ass (I may revive it), the writing was not. My second novel was better, but not good enough. Again, the story was there, the writing young. But it was better. Number three, Jersey Tale, even better. In fact, I got some interest from agents and editors. Just no contract.
I have finished my fourth novel, and handed it over for feedback. While I wait, I can put my writing time and energy into rewriting number three, Jersey Tale, with the clear suggestions I received from editors, or not.
I am tempted to stick that novel under my mattress and move on. Jersey Tale has already been through two rewrites. Doing it again feels a lot like going to the dentist to replace an old filling. Crack this open, scrape out a wound I didn’t even know still hurt, pour in new cement, and go numb for a couple of hours. Or weeks.
Crap, I hate rewrites. And I love a new project.
Here’s the dilemma – how many books can I fit under my mattress? How long can I write and not publish a novel, and still want to keep writing? And what about those characters, those intriguing word-spirits that emerged in my imagination fully formed, demanding, and real? Don’t I owe it to them to roll up my sleeves and do more rewriting? Isn’t every novel going to need a few rewrites? If I keep tossing the novels under the bed, I’ll never get published. And I’ll have trouble sleeping on that lumpy, book filled mattress.
But I have a character that might be the protagonist of my next book. He keeps showing up in the corner of my mind, like a fish leaping out of the sea. Just for a minute, shiny and bright, as if to say “Look at me!” Who is he? What does he want, and what gets in his way? Oh, how tempted I am by the excitement of a new story.
Start a new novel? Or go back and dust off the last?
I haven’t decided yet.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, fellow writers. Does anyone else feel palpable guilt over the novels they didn’t bring to the fruition? Or find themselves always drawn to the new, ignoring the old stories that need work? Do you too have rewrite nightmares? Tell me about your process. Commiseration requested!