Friday, December 7, 2007

Sometimes, You Have to Admit You're Beaten to Defeat Defeatism

Maven Jacqueline BarbourHow's that for a crazy, convoluted title for a post? I promise that I'll make it make sense before I'm done, though.

You see, since last summer, I've been battling with the dilemma of how to fix my first manuscript, Unbridled. I'd written the first draft through all the way to the end, but I knew there were places that needed a lot of work. The Black Moment and its resolution weren't quite right. There were scenes that needed to be cut or reimagined to improve the flow of the story. And then, there was the problem of "the beginning."

The irony of the last problem is that several different versions of the first 20-25 pages of that manuscript had finaled in various chapter contests. So what was the problem? Well, it kept finishing third, for starters! But the bottom line was that it just didn't snap and pop the way I knew it needed to in order to get the attention of an agent or editor.

I reworked the opening (more times that I want to admit). Over the summer, I came up with a new version that I liked quite well. The first 35 pages were absolutely rock-solid. Funny opening line, good internal conflict for both characters, good setup for the romance. And then? Then, I got stuck.

Badly stuck.

I couldn't figure out what came next. I brainstormed. I wrote a synopsis that, on paper, made sense. But when I tried to write the scenes demanded by the synopsis, they felt forced. The sexual tension was non-existent, and the sub-plots were taking over like kudzu.

To make an already long story short, I reached the point where I realized the time had come. I'd been fighting to salvage a manuscript that simply wasn't salvageable. Writing it--or, more often, sitting there staring at the computer screen and not writing it--was making me depressed and even more neurotic than usual about my abilities. (See, none of the Mavens has a corner on the neurosis market!) I was starting to feel like a no-talent loser/hack because of this one book, and it was threatening to keep me from writing anything at all.

And so, with some reluctance, I consigned Unbridled to the Magical Mulch Pile (that's an Erica coinage, BTW, in case you didn't know) once and for all. Almost instantly, I found I was able to write again. A lot. And while what I wrote wasn't even close to perfect, it didn't feel like utter dreck, either. I'd gotten back to telling the stories I wanted to tell, and that made all the difference.

The lesson? Some stories just don't pan out. Some manuscripts just can't (or shouldn't) be fixed. And sometimes, it's better to admit when you're beaten and move on than to keep revisiting a failure. Besides, we learn from failure. I know I will never consider having written Unbridled to have been a waste of time. I'm a much different--and I like to think, much better--writer as a direct result of every mistake I made writing that book.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever put a manuscript in the Magical Mulch Pile? Why? How did you know it was the right decision?

P.S. In a final twist of irony, I heard on Wednesday that Unbridled finaled in Launching a STAR. But I am resolved. Even if it were to hit the jackpot by winning and getting a request from one of the final judges, I won't be tempted to pick it up again.

Much...

10 comments:

Christine Koehler said...

I have more stories in the MMP than I care to admit. Some are finished (in that beginning writers stage and need serious rewriting) some are 1 or 2 chapters that I never thought out and have no where to go after.

Admitting defeat isn't as hard as it sounds, actually. It's amazing how many stories are waiting in the recesses for a chance.

Marnee Jo said...

I'm sorely tempted to put my current WIP in the Magical Mulch Pile. I'm not loving the conflict, feeling like I keep going over and over the same internal conflicts and that said internal conflicts aren't strong enough to push my story.

For now, I've just put it down to let it marinade in my brain, thinking I'll come back in a month or so.

I thought I'd try my hand at a contemporary, so that's what I'm attempting to plot now.

Gillian Layne said...

Even if you got a request???

Now come on.... :)

Bill Clark said...

C'mon, Jacq, the whole point of the Magical Mulch Pile is that it's magical! Let time and composting do their work, and the leaves of your ms. will turn into black gold. (Meaning spendable gold for you, of course!)

It's OK to let things mulch for a while. But, to quote Churchill's famous WW II speech at Harrow School, "Never give up. Never, never, never, never, never give up!"

Besides, "Unbridled" is almost like a godchild to me - didn't I help to christen it? (Also hardly a day goes by when I don't remember Maven Erica's suggestion, "Ridden Hard and Put Away Wet", and chortle out loud.) :-)

Erica Ridley said...

the sub-plots were taking over like kudzu

hehehehehehehehehhe

I have 2 stories firmly in the MMP, and one I'm three quarters of the way through revising that teetered on the edge of the MMP for over a year. As written, that story sucked, but as revised... I'm kinda liking it. Am I tempted to revise those other two? Hell no. I'm tempted to torch them.

I agree... you gotta know when to say when and move on. Moving on is often the best thing you can do, because time and distance bring the objectivity necessary to determine whether or not a project is a waste of your time or a potential Good Deal.

Erica Ridley said...

OMG Bill, I forgot about that.

For those not around in those days, here's the link to Jacq's "Name That Book" request.

I had a whole mess of suggestions (none of which she took) but my three faves were:

Can She or Canter She?
Smoky Mountain Reins
...and...
Trots of Passion

lacey kaye said...

I am sooooooo happy to hear you are letting your brain rest! I can't wait for more CY. And this secret project of yours...

Jacqueline Barbour said...

Christine: In my lifetime, I've abandoned far more stories than I ever finished, which is a big part of the reason I had trouble letting this one go. You're right, though, the unfinished stories are a potential gold mine for the future.

Marnee Jo: Although I haven't given up on historicals, I have also been working on contemporaries lately. I always believed I'd never have a story idea for a contemporary, but lo and behold, over the past 9 months or so, I have acquired not one, but six of them :).

Gillian: No, not even if I got a request :)! I only have 35 good pages and after that, I'm totally stuck. I think I'd try to convince the editor/agent I have something else that's better for them instead.

Bill: Just because the *story's* in the rubbish heap doesn't mean the *title* can't be used :).

Erica and Bill: Stop making me laugh so hard I spit tea on my monitor.

Lacey: I promise to get back to CY after the new, super-secret project (NSSP) is in the can. NSSP grew a bit on me, word-count wise, this week, so I probably won't have it done until next week sometime, but it's coming along very nicely.

Tessa Dare said...

Awww, farewell "Unbridled". May it mulch in peace.

That must have taken a lot of courage, Jacqueline. I'm glad it's freeing you to write new and fabulous things! And you never know - something from it may prove useful in the future.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I'm wavering on consigning one of my unfinished manuscripts to the MMP. I started out gangbusters, and I know if I sit down to write on it again, it'll still come, but I'm beginning to think the premise to too far out there to ever see publication. *shrug* I haven't let it go yet. I have a hard time letting stories go. I'm still hoping someday I'll get my first book published. Maybe one of the ones I'm editing will open the door for it.

LOL See? Can't let it go.

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