Saturday, March 15, 2008

To Revise, or Move On?

I hesitate to post about this because no one can tell me what the right thing to do might be. Few have read the manuscript I'm talking about, and no one is inside my head to straighten out my own thinking. And hardly anyone knows what else is cooking in my world of writing. Still, I'm going to think out loud on this hazy Saturday morning.

I wrote a novel. It was the thesis for my MFA. It was long and complicated and parts of it were good. Parts weren't. Although I began in 2003 to publish short stories, to break through with a novel is tough. So, on advice from a writer I admire, I split the manuscript into two, and spent a good bit of time polishing the first of those two. The plan was to turn to the other half (now a separate book) when the first was under contract. I started sending queries to agents and when that didn't result in representation I contacted small presses. There are still an agent and one small press considering the manuscript, but I have zero optimism that the book will be published in its present form. The agents and editors who gave feedback (not many, but some, about whom I have a good feeling) said they loved the writing but not the plot.

So, what to do next? It wouldn't kill me to rework the plot of that book. I have some thoughts about what I would do to it. But at this point, does it make sense? I could still be revising that book when I'm 99 and I might not ever convince anyone to publish it.

I'm actually about to finish another book, unrelated to the first in any way, and I do have high hopes for this book. It may be that the new book will get my career moving, so that the first book will no longer feel like the millstone it now is. Or I may find that a taste of progress will give me the energy I need to fix what ails that first book. Time will tell.

The real question for me is, what project should I work on after this new book is done? My inclination at the moment is to take the second half of my original manuscript and polish that into a novel. It's already there. Some holes need to be filled, but it wouldn't take long to get it ready to send out. Or I could add those pages to the box where the other manuscript sits and turn my attention to a brand new project, a fresh idea, unburdened by old work.

My target date to make that decision is April 1.


Matt said...

That's an awful hard decision, Cliff, and as you said, it's hard one to comment on. That said, I wish you the best of luck with it. You're a damn fine writer, and I'm sure whatever you decide to do next is going to turn out just fine.

Jade Park said...

I am sure that whatever happens, the decision will ultimately be the right one--though a hard deadline of April 1 is an awful lot of pressure! But who knows--maybe the Muse will reply quickly. :)

Good luck!

terena said...

Very, very tricky. But I'm not sure giving yourself a hard deadline it the answer. I too wrote a novel, which got some very nice rejection letters. They liked my writing, but not the book. I set the book aside and waited. Now I'm debating something similar; revise the plot. I think in situations like this the only way to figure it out is to give yourself the time it needs. But that's me. Maybe you need a deadline. Good luck with this. It's so tough!

Anonymous said...

It's very simple, Cliff. You need to figure out which work (the second half of the old MFA or the fresh, new work) you'd rather spend the next chapter of your life (hours, weeks, months..) working on. Ask yourself, if I was trapped in a room for a year and could only work on one thing, what would I want it to be? If the old work doesn't get your juice flowing, leave it be for now (and maybe forever). Sometimes it's hard to leave things behind, but this isn't like Thomas Wolfe--you can go back to it again. Of course, if you don't have a new project in mind, that could be a problem, but I'm confident that if you open your mind it'll come to you. It may turn out it doesn't have any legs, but if you return to work on your old book, at least you'll know that's where you should be. And of course when you want to make an important decision like this always remember what the Buddha said: Seek it and you will not find it...

Steve N.

Clifford Garstang said...

Simple, huh? Easy for you to say, Steve! But in a way it is. I hate to waste anything, I'm still committed to the story that's buried in that material, and so I'm pretty sure I'm going to take that rough draft and try to turn it into something.

There is another project waiting in the wings, but it'll keep.

Bookworm said...

It's really hard to leave behind a project in which you've invested a lot of time. In some ways you might be feeling guilty for leaving saleable/usable material "on the table". You could always embark on a new project while completely putting the 2nd half of your thesis away. Box up your notes and drafts, archive the file in multiple safe places and take it off your hard drive. If you find that you feel relief and like a weight has been lifted -- it was the right call. If your new project doesn't take off after a valiant effort and you can't stop thinking about your thesis, you can go back to it. Good luck!! Laura