Taking out the trash
Yes, there comes a time, regardless of where you are in your career, that you have to admit the story just isn’t working. You’ve edited, rewritten, polished and pondered the book, trying to force it to be something different. So what do you do?
Toss it. Delete it. Put it on a thumb drive, then put that drive in a drawer. Do whatever it takes to free yourself from a project that just isn’t going anywhere even after your months (or years) of TLC. I’ve tossed a 200+ manuscript because it fell apart at the end. Did it hurt? You bet it did. I felt like I was deleting a kidney.
What are some of the signs that it’s time to throw in the towel?
- You dread going to your computer;
- You’ve rewritten the same thing more than twice;
- You lie in bed trying to think of a way to write your way out of the abyss;
- You haven’t finished the manuscript in 6 months;
- You kid yourself into thinking all rewrites are just polishing;
- It’s been weeks and you still don’t know where to start the scene;
- You use the excuse that you’re a pantser so you’re waiting for your muse;
- You have an idea that isn’t complex enough to sustain a whole book;
- You can’t figure out what to do after the cute meet or the murder or whatever;
- You’re depending on your critique partner/group to save you from yourself;
- You feverishly enter contests, but only ones that want three chapters or less;
- You don’t have the idea for your next book in your brain.
Trying to fix something is hard work. It only makes it harder if you’re in love with your own words. The two things I hear most often are A) I’m on my tenth (or whatever) draft and B) My critique group loves it.
As to item A – you need to learn how to plot before you start to write. You need a roadmap so you don’t end up circling the globe in search of some way to turn your book into a complex and cohesive story. BTW, that’s the definition of a pantser. I have never personally met a pantser that doesn’t do drafts. I’m of the opinion that doing a draft is like giving yourself permission to write shit. And that wastes time, a precious commodity in this tight publishing climate.
As to item B – I’m a huge proponent of having a critique partner/group. A second pair of eyes is a good thing SO LONG AS THAT PERSON WRITES AT OR ABOVE YOUR LEVEL. Exceptions for reviewers & voracious readers of your genre, they normally have their respective fingers on the pulse of what’s out there. Most importantly, your critique group doesn’t find you an agent or offer you a publishing contract. Chances are they’re your friends, so they can’t be as tough as an agent or editor will be when you submit. Years ago I was in a critique group and all I wanted to do was sell a Silhouette Desire. I worked on one for about a month and took my five chapters to critique group. When I finished, one dear, dear friend said, “You’re action and dialogue are great but everything else sucks. Ever think of writing romantic suspense?” It was my light bulb moment. I took her advice and in four months (with a fulltime job and a preschooler at home) I finished the manuscript and two months after that, I sold it to Harlequin Intrigue. I will forever be grateful for that friend’s honesty. She was spot on and didn’t sugarcoat anything. That’s what you need from a critique buddy.
That isn’t to say your critique buddy can’t dislike what you’re writing. Maybe he/she doesn’t like mysteries or romance or westerns or whatever. But he/she should still be able to tell you if the story structure, pacing, plot and characterization are on the page.
In these days, it’s impossible for many authors to sell on a partial, so you’ve got to finish the book and make sure it is in the best shape ever. Three good chapters do not a book make.