Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Letting Go

I've learned so much about writing over the past year and even since the beginning of 2011 after joining a couple of critique groups and attending two conferences. I've been trying to consider the comments made in the critiques and as a result I decided to take one suggestion (made by two different readers) and rewrite my ms to follow a slightly different plot line and see how it goes. I finished Part 1 (there are 3 parts) this weekend.

This happens to be WIP #1 for me (I have two others partially done). I hear a lot about how your first book is always a piece of trash and you should just write it and get it out of your system and move on. As a stupid newbie, I'm not sure I agree. Here's what I'm thinking.

1. I love the story. Even if it's never good enough to publish, I will get it formatted and have it printed so I have a copy of it. Because of this I want it to be the very best little story it can be.

2. This manuscript is the one I'm practicing on. It's completely finished, and the plot is solid (as others have confirmed for me). I look at this book kind of like I did when I taught myself how to read crochet instructions. My grandmother had taught me how to do a simple granny stitch, and I'd made several afghans over the years. But I didn't know how to read a pattern. I purchased a book, a thing of crochet string, and a hook of the correct size. I went to work and when I'd finish a certain technique, I'd unravel what I'd done and start on the next project. I did this until I could read just about any pattern. The string had been used to many times it had become discolored and I threw it away. But the experience was incredibly useful.

I'm on edit/rewrite 9 of my ms because I keep learning new techniques and writing pitfalls to watch out for. I don't feel like I'm wasting my time, and from the feedback I've received it's getting better (so hopefully I haven't taken the heart out of it by all my editing).

3. Once I'm finished with this one, I will (I hope) be better trained as I approach completing those other works.

I'm very much the personality type to start something and finish it. I love being able to say I completed a task--and this task I love. I hope I'm not like the old Harry/Hermione shippers--delusional--and hanging on when I should just set this project aside and let go.

What about you? Do you ever wonder if you've hung on too long? How do you decide it's okay to keep going or cut the apron strings?


  1. I did spend several years completing my first novel, and eventually had to walk away from it, but I don't consider it time wasted. It was a tremendous learning experience. All time spent working on the craft of writing is worth it in my opinion, even if you do end up abandoning a lot of projects. It's one of those things where you only get better the more you do it.

  2. If we assume that everyone is right and the first book will be a trunk novel, we won't work too hard on it. So we won't learn what we need to learn. Then, even if everyone IS right, our second, etc books will also be trunk novels until we finally believe in ourselves enough to give a project the energy it deserves.

    I say assume it will be published. Write it like it will be published and edit it like it will be published. Maybe you'll be wrong, and you'll learn 100 ways NOT to write a publishable novel. But maybe you'll be right.

  3. Wishing you continued success getting through your WIP, Donna.

    I have one novel that was trunked back when I was a young-un. I continued with my poetry pursuits, but something in me just wouldn't let this book go.

    I WANTED to tell its story. The theme seemed, to me anyway, something that needed to be imparted to more than just the dusty insides of a drawer. So out it came. And I have been working on it since. It'll happen. Better, anyway. The thing has kept me up enough nights as it is.

  4. L.G. -- I hope you're right. Like I said, it will be published even if only for me.

    Robin -- what you said!

    Bryce -- Good luck on yours as well. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one having these tales creep in my dreams over.

  5. Letting go is hard. I ended up self publishing my first book. Maybe I shouldn't have, but they do carry it at the Tattered Cover here in Denver and I've probably refilled that order about 7 times now. It still sells a copy here and there on Amazon, Kindle, or BN--I mean, I got a 6 dollar check from Amazon just last week! ;-)

    It a hard thing to know though. Is is good enough? Even now having an agent and being on submission, there are no guarantees this book/series will get sold. Still, I know even more so with this book than I did with the first that I would SP if it comes to that.

    I guess I'm not very good at letting go.

  6. Like you, Donna, I used my first manuscript as my training ground--I went through it again and again and again, both writing the book and learning HOW to write a book. I loved that story, and didn't get tired of working with it as long as I could still see ways to improve it. I worked on it for years, and eventually it became my first published novel.

    I think the key is that you're working and learning and refining your craft, whether you're doing it on one manuscript or on half a dozen.

  7. I actually have no idea when I realized that I wanted to hang on to an idea. I've done the same as you, except that the story would have something wrong and I'd either start over or stop completely.

    Then I had an idea and it felt different. So I stuck with it through two drafts. Going into edits now, which will be another kettle of fish altogether.


  8. Becky -- I've considered self-publishing if I'm unsuccessful at getting it published traditionally (assuming I decide to try querying). I've got several people who want a copy. (This could be another of those delusional things).

    Stephanie -- I can't tell you how encouraging that is. But, I also know how well you write.

    Misha -- good luck with your project. Those edits are killer. I wrote this thing in 30 days and I've almost been editing ever since. =D

  9. Great post Donna! I actually put a WIP on the back burner a while ago, since it was never turning out like I wanted it too. Though recently, I find myself going back and changing some things. So maybe one day I'll be able to go back to it and complete it. Love your blog! :)

  10. Amy -- thanks! My problem is I feel like my story works. My sweet hubby thought it was wonderful in it's original rough version and can't understand why I keep changing it. =D

  11. I don't think every first novel should be thrown away or tucked in a drawer forever. If you love a story, you should want to share it. Amanda Hocking didn't let conventional wisdom stand in her way, and look at her now. I agree that the first novel is such a great place to learn!

  12. I actually love editing! It's like working out, painful, but it gives you results.
    ...after all the blood, sweat and tears.
    S.B. Niccum
    Author Website

  13. I don't think you should ever give up on a book you truly love. When people say "your first book is always trash" -- what they probably really mean is the first draft. And in that case, they're probably right.

    For some people, the first draft is also the only draft. Those people give up way too easily and maybe don't understand writing as well as they think.

    If you have spent this much time on the novel, then there's something there. It may or may not be the first one you publish, but clearly it does not want to be "trunked."

  14. Don't give up on it! Send it to a ton of agents and work on your next book in the meantime. You'll be doing all you can to get it published and learning the publishing industry at the same time. And you'll have the fun of wring something new while you're at it!

  15. Oh, I forgot to tell you in my last comment - thanks for being a follower on my blog!

  16. Oh, good question. I think it's true that sometimes a story we love just doesn't have enough in it to ever be read-worthy BUT they are always good for practice! As for your question . . . I just barely decided to pull a project OFF the shelf. I thought it was done for and couldn't be resurrected. But several months have passed and a little voice is whispering to me ways that it might be improved so . . .

    I think it's good to know when to move on, but to also be willing to go back and try, try again!

  17. Shelli -- I'm so glad so many of you agree on this. I love my practice.

    S.B. -- I love editing when I know it makes it better. I hate editing when I feel like I'm on a treadmill and I'm going no where because it will never be good enough.

    Brenda -- My pleasure to follow. I'm still deciding if I've got the guts to send it to agents. One of these days I'll have to actually write a query and see how it goes.

    Ali -- I'm learning to listen to that little voice. Not sure I believe it yet, but at least I'm listening to it. =D

  18. You have the perfect attitude about your journey. Make that novel the best you can. No edit, tinkering, reworking, etc will be a waste. It will help you become better.

  19. So far, I've never given up totally on anything, but I do put things aside after a certain point. The funny thing is that sometimes I'll resurrect something later and it all works out for its good!

  20. Kasie -- let's hope so! When I let a coworker who's been a beta for me on this WIP read my most recent submission for bootcamp at the storymaker conference, she was surprised at how much progress I'd made. And she liked it in the beginning. Of course, she's not a critiquer, but she does give me a good feel for what a regular reader might think.

    CL -- I've heard that, too. Perhaps a story isn't fully developed or our current skills are quite there to tell it properly, but once we hone those skills, who knows what's possible.

  21. I'm glad you haven't given up on your first. I set my first aside, but it's not forgot. Maybe some day...
    Have a great day!

  22. I love this post! First I have to say, I loved the crochet part because that was me--I learned how and didn't know how to read a pattern for ages.
    Next, I want to say good for you for working on your WIP. A piece of advice I loved is one successful author (sorry can't remember her name)who said you should go through the entire process with your manuscript--finish it, revise it, polish it. And then you might need to keep it in a drawer because it was your practice one, but go on to the next one.
    I like your idea of making your story be the best possible and then if want to print it out, do. But I don't think that just because it's your first doesn't mean it will never be published. Maybe you'll write three more and then go back to this one. I hope you enjoy the process and good luck!

  23. I love your attitude, and love the analogy to crocheting. I never thought of it that way, but how perfect!
    This is an inspiring post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Keep going, I've no doubt your story is fabulous.

    P.S. I had to laugh at the shippers comment! :D

  24. Michelle -- I'm glad so many people haven't given up hope for their first projects.

    Rachelle -- good point. I have heard of many authors who didn't publish their first WIPs first, but they did eventually publish them.

    Julie -- I'm glad you caught the shipper's reference. The only battles fought amongst fans that got more animated discussion was whether or not Dumbledore was really dead and Snape's loyalty. =D

  25. No creative work is ever wasted! It's why we live. Thanks for this post.

  26. Tamara --"It's why we live." I love it!

  27. Two things:

    First, why don't you tell us more about your writing group.

    Second, rewriting your WIP #1 is no different than rewriting your tenth published novel. You'l rewrite and see things and rewrite and see more things. So don't consider this one junk. And don't think that rewriting is a waste of time. It is what authors do. Most of the time. They rewrite.


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