Begin again

I mentioned yesterday that the book idea that’s been brewing just didn’t work for anyone.   I threw it out there valiantly because it seemed like I might be able to get it there eventually, but agent didn’t much love it, than editor (remember, I chose her because she is so smart) nixed it without much regret at all.  And when she called to tell me to start over, what I felt was relieved.

Now, you may ask, if that was true, why did you send it to them in the first place? And the answer is, because I can’t always judge my work clearly.  Nor can you.  No writer can.  That’s why we work with professionals like editors and agents who have the unenviable task of being clear-eyed when we are not. They alos have the pleasure of saying, "Wow, you outdid yourself this time," or "this is going to make us a lot of money, kiddo," or "this is the best thing you’ve ever written."

I know some of you think that a writer gets to a certain point in her career where everything she writes is gold. I wish it were true.  It isn’t.  Some ideas never quite jell, and the reasons are as varied as the reasons any book doesn’t quite work–characters, plot, tone, setting, execution.  There were some intriguing things about this book, a setting I found compelling, and a single character action that called to me, which was the entire kernel of the idea in terms of my emotional resonance. 

But it wasn’t the main story, and there was no way to make it the main story, so I built a lot of other stuff around it and tried to make it work.  It didn’t. 

There was another idea bubbling on a back burner, and I’ve been adding some spices and possibilities to it over the past couple of weeks. This morning, I’m going to sit down and let it reveal itself.  Kind of juicy, this one. 

So, if you’ve been discouraged by a rejection recently, or a book isn’t working, just let go, toss it all on the compost heap (all that stuff gets recycled, you know. No idea is ever lost.) And begin again, with me.

How do you handle the news that a project didn’t work?

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5 thoughts on “Begin again

  1. I’m sorry your idea didn’t work out all around, but I’m happy you’re dealing with it in such a positive way. And yeah, sometimes we just know something isn’t working, and it’s a relief to have that validated, too.

    I wouldn’t know just yet how I deal with the news that a project didn’t work, but gosh, I hope I find out whether it worked or not SOON…(As in, when I finish and submit.) In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to sigh vicariously through you. :-)

    I’m so close to the end of my story and am actually putting “the end” on hold while I go ahead and dive into revisions because I just can’t get a good read on the final scenes until I’m sure the rest of it’s working. That’s scaring me a bit, but I’m trying to keep plugging away. It seems like the characters might be trying to tell me something I’m just not hearing yet.

    Best wishes for the NEW project, and who knows, someday the old one might come back to life in a way you never expected.

  2. Christine

    Hi Barbara. I am curious to know whether you have a critiquing partner, or whether you go it alone. If you have a critiquing partner, did he/she pick up the problem?

  3. Go, Julie! So great to get to the end of a book.

    Christine, I do not work with a critique group. I started on my own and by the time I might have created that circle, I was already entrenched in my patterns. I have one friend with whom I brainstorm and vet ideas, but other that that, it’s my agent and editor.

    Who are very smart, luckily.

  4. It’s been heartbreaking for me—the ones that have had to go under the bed because they weren’t working. Of course, it’s possible they were heartbreaking because the books themselves had already been written and no one could seem to agree on the “why” of their not working. Just that they didn’t.

    During the fall I was mulling over two very different story ideas and having a very difficult time choosing between them—finally, I wrote outlines for both and sent them to my agent, who is also Very Smart. She knew I was leaning towards one a bit more, but more importantly, she knew why. She knew I was leaning towards it for sentimental reasons and because in some ways, it would be the “easier” story to write. (In so much as any story can be easier.) She also knew the second story scared me no end. Which is why she told me that’s the one I had to write. When I pounded my feet and pouted a little, she asked me, point blank, “Which one have you been telling me the characters are shaping themselves and which one have you been sending me all the neat research information about?”

    She was right. She knew I was shying away from it primarily because I was scared. (I’m actually talking about it tomorrow at Romancing the Blog—the fear.)

    So I cried a little when I pushed the other story beneath the metaphorical mattress. It’s a good story and perhaps it’ll have its day at some point in the future, but it wasn’t going to work right now.

  5. The thing is that often those books that go under the bed re-emerge in some other form, or even as themselves when they’ve had time to ripen. One of my first novels, written when I was eighteen or nineteen, was eventually published as a romance, twelve or fourteen years later. (Walk in Beauty, for those who want to know.) I’ve just had a 20-year-old manuscript scanned to disk so I can play with it, layer some more into it. There is a lot that’s raw–but I’m enjoying the play.

    I’m off to read your blog on fear. We can all relate to that.

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