My Mission Statement

I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What do you DO with a finished manuscript?

Ahhhh...a finished manuscript, especially a novel, is a weighty accomplishment. I mean, you sat in a chair for months, maybe years, maybe even decades, and finished a first draft. Then, you edited for more months, years, and maybe even decades until you had a polished manuscript. FINAL draft is a phrase I hate to use because for me, nothing is FINAL. As long as I am still alive, I can find something to change or update or strengthen. The key for me is making myself STOP at the right time. But I digress. When I finished my first novel and then my second, I wanted so badly to DO something with those finished manuscripts. They were brilliant, insightful, and, well, FINISHED. Didn't that count for something? We all know that less than 1% of people who begin a novel will finish it, and dammit, I finished a half dozen at least. Early on, I rushed to DO something with these manuscripts. Surely, this or that agent or this or that editor was waiting for exactly what I had in my fat stack of pages (yes, this was before digital submissions). Sometimes, I would carry the manuscript around in my bag with me for days, not showing anyone, of course, but just to feel the heft of my accomplishment. It was a physical reminder that I had COMPLETED IT. IT. The great American middle grade novel. (or YA, depending...) I have a similar excitement about picture books, but somehow the small word count gives a bit less satisfaction with the whole printing out and carrying around thing. ANYWAY, my early novels were largely ignored short of very nice personal rejections, which, at the time, I didn't even know were significant. My first novel generated only one form rejection, and I, of course, just assumed that person 'didn't get it'. Now, I know that manuscript was a great FIRST novel, but not a publishable first novel. At least not by my standards now. I am now very grateful that early novel didn't appear on the shelves anywhere. I wasn't ready. My work wasn't ready. And once it's out there, IT'S OUT THERE. So yes, I occasionally think about all the finished novels that lie unpublished in my office. I see a kernel of an idea, a value, a great character, SOMETHING in all of them, but they are just not good enough. Often people will ask me, did you ever DO anything with that story about the builderer or the hurricane or the illegal immigrant teen-ager or the Latin freak middle schooler? I want to say, um, yes, I DID SOMETHING with it. I freaking wrote it and revised it and learned a great deal from the experience. It was a lesson. Maybe someday I will rework some of them for publication, but for the most part, these stories remain a part of my writing past. They each represent a different part of my learning curve. But even I have to admit that as I wrote each one, I NEVER imagined it lying unread. NEVER. Or I wouldn't have, couldn't have finished. So often I talk to seasoned writers and ask them, "Which book was it? What #?" They always know what I mean. Jerry Spinelli swears by #7. "7 is the one," he said. Linda Sue Park says you must write a million words before you can write an excellent novel, so depending on the number of rewrites, a million words could be ten novels or less. For my friend, Jody, whose amazing first novel, THIN SPACE, debuts September 2013, it was #6 (because she's advanced). I don't really know where I am because I've written a number of chapter books that aren't novel length, but three of them probably make one novel, so that puts me at 8-10. Not to mention the hundreds of picture book manuscripts. So the point of this blog is this: You HAVE to write everything as if you are preparing it for publication. We, as writers, must insist on excellence in all our endeavors or what is the point? Why would we practice mediocrity? Because truly, all these unpublished works are practice. Everything I'ver ever written will play a role in whatever novel I publish first. It TOOK EVERYTHING I WROTE UP TO THAT MOMENT to create that piece. Just as, I believe, God prepares you for your places in life with all the events that lead up to them. God prepares writers for THE BIG ONE with all the lessons we learn in those we 'do nothing with'. Except the 'nothing' we did with them were absolutely crucial in two ways: 1. We didn't insist on putting out a mediocre novel just for the sake of seeing our names in print. (Sorry, but that's the crux of self-publishing for most people) 2. We waited patiently (for the most part) to do the work, learn the lessons, get the experience, acquire knowledge, and improve our craft. 3. We worked very, very hard in every aspect of the business. 4. We took a LOT of hits, hard hits, hits that many people never get back up from. (But we did!) 5. We passed it on. We encouraged others, networked, critiqued, referred, taught, recommended books, and other things that contributed to the writing community as a whole. All lessons that we learned from those 'nothing' novels. 6. We eventually wrote the zinger, the one that made all the others worthwhile (or at least we will). So press on, dear writer friends. Fret not about your shelf full of manuscripts--unread and unpublished. They are your friends, your teachers, your gifts. They are rungs in the track, and they must be in place in order for your train to come roaring into town. SO WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A FINISHED MANUSCRIPT? You THANK it.


Jody Casella said...

You are totally right. Every book we write takes us one step closer to the next, better one--whether or not these practice books ever make it to publication themselves. What I've figured out is I love to write regardless and there is no better way to spend my time.
PS Thanks for the shout out about my book #6!

Shannon Hitchcock said...

Save them! Even early drafts... because you just never know. I recently donated the early drafts of THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL to the Ted Hipple Young Adult Literature Collection at the University of South Florida.

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