Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Learning To Let Go

One of the questions writers are faced with is: How do you know when a book is done? To me, a bigger question is: How do you know when to let a story go? Most writers I know have a book (or two) under the bed or in a drawer that will never again see the light of day -- let alone an agent or editor's desk. These are usually our first books, a way for us to begin to learn our craft as well as the business side of publishing. One of the things I've learned is that we should start a new story once one is completed, to keep moving forward, to always, always be working on something new. Sound advice indeed.

And for me, easier said than done.

I'm a rewriter. In the past five years I've written four complete stories, and while my first book is a lost cause, I still see promise in the other three. So much so that I've spent the remainder of those years reworking plots, characterizations and conflicts to make those stories the best they can be. Luckily this method has worked for me and each time I've rewritten, I've made the stories stronger. Which isn't to say I don't occasionally wonder if I've made a mistake. If all of the time and effort I've put into these stories hasn't been wasted.

I don't think it has. While I haven't written a dozen books, I have learned my writing process, my strengths and weaknesses and discovered my voice. I've even managed a bit of success (three GH finals and the interest of an editor). So no, I don't have any regrets. But after handing in requested revisions on my current GH finaling book, I've realized I'm ready to move on. I'm now working on an idea for a Young Adult book that's been in my head for over a year and there's a certain Bad Boy hero who keeps whispering in my ear to hurry up and write his story.

I'm letting go -- for now :-)

Anyone else have an idea or characters they can't let go? Any other rewriters out there?


Tawny said...

I looooove those stories huddling together under my bed ;)

Two of them, I've rewritten quite a few times. But the more I write, the stronger my voice is, the less I can do with them.. other than taking the core idea and characters and simply starting from scratch.

Oh wait... now there's an idea.


Christine Zampi said...

I'm also a rewriter but I have to agree with Tawny that my voice has definitely gotten stronger and my first couple of books probably should stay under the bed. I don't mind the rewrites because I tend to write a quick first draft that usually needs some life blown into it. But at the same time I have to keep going. And now that I have an agent who is very editorial, I know I can stop and let her read it and give me comments. I just finished a rough draft and am working on the revisions. But even now my next hero is whispering in my ear...write me...write me.

Kate Carlisle said...

Beth, I have done exactly what you did, rewriting all of my old books several times. I'd like to think they started out as good, basic stories and just got stronger and better as my voice and abilities grew. I hope that's the case, anyway!

But yeah, it's really a great feeling to finally start something completely new!

Trish Milburn said...

I've done a mixture. There are books that I've not go back to, but there are others that I just can't give up on, no matter how many rejections they get. I'll change them and send other places until I find the editor who likes them as much as I do.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the process of letting go even as we first book was my GH finalist last year, and I had that one out to a couple of agents for over a year, and JUST heard back today from both of them. Just not strong enough. I sent that book and another historical (my second complete ms) to Harlequin a couple of weeks ago, both of which have made the agent rounds, and if they reject, I've decided those books go right under the bed, never to be disturbed. ;-)

On the other hand, I've got a YA that has been rejected by a couple dozen agents, but the feedback on it has been really good, and I'm realizing that it does need some thorough revisions with an eye to pacing and flow. So that one I am going to keep alive, at least for another set of rewrites.

It is hard, though, to know whether or not you can salvage that wonderful story and those wonderful characters, or if you let them rest in obscurity.


Anna Campbell said...

Beth, did a long response to this and blogger ate it. Hope my message gives blogger bad indigestion! Grrr! But I wanted to say I love your post. Most of my apprentice efforts I now see were definite apprentice efforts - never to be resurrected. Although definitely not a waste of time to do. There's a romantic comedy that I hope will see the light of day some time and there's a book about 18th century Hungary that I can't imagine anyone ever wanting to buy but it's got the best hero in it that I ever wrote. Sigh. Pity he's so of his time and his age and I can't really change the story.

Beth said...

Glad to know I'm not alone :-) For me, letting go of the characters is the hardest. I've tweaked and changed plots but my characters have stayed the same (only hopefully stronger/better).

Whether we rewrite or start something new, I think the end result is the same: A new beginning and another chance to write the best story we can :-)

Christine Wells said...

Nice post, Beth! I edited my first novel to death when I should have moved on, but I don't think the experience was wasted. I could never rework my first couple of mss--they were totally wrong for the market and my writing style has evolved a lot since then! Or so I hope:)

Beth said...
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