Monday, April 22, 2013

The secret life of unfinished manuscripts

As a writer, we’re partial to certain words. ‘The End’ is a phrase I like. ‘First draft’ sounds good.  ‘Revision’ is another one. Then, there are those words I hit the ‘delete’ key on. ‘Writers’ block’ anyone? Or ‘stuck in the sagging middle?’ For some reason, I’ve never liked the word ‘unfinished.’ ‘Unfinished business’ sounds scary. ‘Unfinished laundry’ sounds tedious. ‘Unfinished manuscripts’ sounds the worst. It sounds lazy. It sounds as if you’ve given up.
So I am still working on my WIP that I began a few years ago not allowing it become ‘unfinished.’ I may go away from it for months but if I ever think of moving on to another project I reprimand myself. No, I must finish this one! I must revise it until I’m happy with it. I cannot let it languish unfinished in a proverbial drawer in my desk.

Lately, I’ve been even more tempted to put it away. The characters are consistent, the plot structure is working but the whole thing is not coming together. The story isn’t working.
On the other hand, I’ve been talking to writer friends who are pulling out their unfinished manuscripts from years before and re-working them. They have had no trouble calling their incomplete manuscripts unfinished. An unfinished manuscript can stand for many things. It means you’ve learned how to write a 60,000 word story, you’ve learned how to revise it, and you’ve learned that it isn’t working. You’ve learned that the story needs to age until precisely the right time to be converted into the final draft. You’ve learned to move forward to the next story.

After days of moping and not getting any writing done I know what I need to do. It feels right. Putting away my manuscript, making the decision to not finish it, to set it aside, feels right. I tell myself that I have learned quite a bit from my current WIP. It has helped me become a better writer. It has helped me to realize that it’s a story not ready for publication.  I can move to a new writing project to which I can apply my improved writing skills. My unfinished manuscript no longer scares me. Rather, it gives me a good nudge to continue writing and trying harder.
Do you have an unfinished manuscript in a desk drawer? How do you feel about it?   

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