In Germany, there is a saying:
It it doesn’t fit, it can be made to fit.
While this phrase is appropriate for suitcases, skinny jeans, and dishwashers, it does not work for your novel, memoir, short stories, etc. In fact, I have recently learned that the opposite is true when it comes to creativity:
If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.
I did NaNoWriMo last year (2010). I wrote 52,000 words in a YA dystopian called Screechers. Of those 52,000 word, about 20,000 have been revised into Something of Moderate Quality.
But I hate it — hate Screechers, I mean. I hate the story; I hate the main character; I hate the stupid world building; and I hate the fact that it’s a dystopian and high concept when neither of those things interest me. It’s just one big BLEH.
So after two months of knowing I should get back to Screechers but not wanting to; knowing that if I just made a butt-in-chair for a few months, I’d finish; and knowing that my agents would be very happy if I handed them my high concept MS all polished and pretty,
I am letting it go.
Sometimes I think writers (read: ME) are reluctant to throw out manuscripts (um, raise your hand if you insisted your first novel would be publishable…only to realize much later that it wasn’t even close). Heck, no one wants to throw out anything they’ve worked hard on — be it a novel, a painting, or a crooked bookshelf.
It’s like when you’re making a cake but you royally screw up the recipe (maybe you added 3 egg yolks instead of 4 egg whites), and the only solution for you is to START OVER. (Well, there is another option: eat a wretched cake. But no one wants to eat wretched cake. No one normal, anyway. ;))
Sometimes we really just gotta let it go. You know, in one fell swoop like an awkwardly placed band-aid (wait — aren’t all band-aids in bad spots?), hit delete, toss it in the trash, and say “good-bye”.
I realized (like 4 days ago) with Screechers that no matter what, I will never like the story as it currently is. And the only way to turn it into a story I love is to start over. And this time, I’m not going to do the stupid things I did with the first draft.
What were those stupid things? And how do you know if you’re committing them too? Answer these questions and let’s find out.
- Writing in a style that is popular, but isn’t your own?
- I wrote in first-person present. While I think some people can pull this off really well, I am NOT one of those people. I struggled (read: was clawing my eyes out and screaming) to make first person present work. Present tense just isn’t natural to me, so it never felt natural on the page.
- Plus, I had MAJOR problems with too much narrative distance (1st-person present ≠ immediacy, contrary to popular belief) and filter words.
- Writing something high concept?
- Screechers is high concept premise — complete with action, irony, an instantly sympathetic heroine, and more.
- BUT, I had so many problems trying to hard to fit into my high concept logline that I just couldn’t tell a good story anymore (high concept ≠ good story, contrary to popular belief).
- Writing it FAST?
- A lot of the speed was because of NaNoWriMo, but the speed-revising had more to do with my own insane determination to finish revising Screechers by April 2011.
- Sometimes, taking it slow works better — especially when the story isn’t coming naturally and you need time to think.
- Writing in a popular genre?
- Dystopian ≠ automatic WIN, contrary to popular belief. Some people handle it really well (Suzanne Collins, George Orwell, John Wyndham, etc.), but again, I am NOT one of those people.
- I like fantasy more thank I like dystopian. I like sci-fi more than I like dystopian. I like paranormal more than I like dystopian. SO WHY THE HECK WASN’T I TRYING TO WRITE THOSE GENRES?
- Writing an MC with whom you can’t connect?
- I could not find my MC’s voice — partly because of the first-person present thing and partly because I didn’t like her (even if she was immediately sympathetic).
- She was a Tough Girl, and some people write Tough Girls well (Suzanne Collins, Holly Lisle, Cherie Priest). I don’t. My Tough Girls just come across 2-dimensional.
- Plus, I just didn’t want to tell a dystopian story, so I found I couldn’t care about my dystopian heroine.
Are you running into any of these? If so, you’ve got a problem, and more importantly, you have to decide:
Is the manuscript worth it? Should you try to salvage this cake or just bake a new one?
For me, starting over is definitely worth it because somewhere in the premise for Screechers is the story I originally wanted to tell. If I get rid of all the crap I don’t like about it and add all the story-telling sparkles I love, then I’m going to wind up with a better book.
So if any of the above questions above apply to you, then take a long hard look at you MS (or your cake…or your leaning bookshelf). And if it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.
Have you ever had this happen? Is there something you’re working on now that just isn’t clicking for you?
Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.