Dear Sherry: Going in Circles

Dear Sherry,

I’ve been battling with a novel manuscript for almost ten years. How do I decide whether to abandon it and consider it a learning experience, or whether I should suck it up, buttercup! —  and work through it? 

I know how important it is to finish a manuscript to know if it’s a viable story with a decent plot and characters, but I’m beginning to think that after all this time, it might be time to move on. And yet I don’t want to give up on it because I don’t want to feel like I’m giving in to some shiny new idea. 

Signed,
Going in Circles

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act-to-find-out

Dear Going in Circles,

After this amount of time of working on a manuscript, I wouldn’t be too worried about succumbing to a Shiny New idea.

Is ten years too long to stick with one project? Maybe, maybe not. Barbara Kingsolver took ten years to write The Poisonwood Bible, because (if I remember right) she wrote every scene from the point of view of all five characters, then decided which one to use in the book. In that case, spending that much time on one book was a good thing. On the other hand, spending that many years on one novel means poisonwood-biblethat you’ve written little else and that your writing career has essentially been stalled.

I am assuming here that you do not have physical limitations that are preventing you from writing as much as you would like.

The fact that you’ve been struggling with this one manuscript for so long, suggests to me, that it might be time to set it aside and move on. You can always come back to it at a later date, or reuse the themes, maybe even the characters and setting, in something new.

I am reminded of a situation I found myself in a number of years ago when I first started Seton Hill University. I had spent about five years on a manuscript, struggling with it, trying to make it work, because I thought it was the kind of story I was supposed to write. It was a terrible novel. Terrible. Over the years, it just got worse, more cliche, unoriginal. My mentor said as much. I started to cry. She said it could be fixed. I asked her how long that was going to take, which is a clear indicator of how I felt about the book at that point. My mentor asked me how much I cared about the characters. I didn’t care at all. My mentor thought I was upset by her comments. I admit, weren’t exactly what I wanted to hear, but mostly, I was relieved. I wanted to write something else, something I’d been excitedly telling everyone about already. She gave me permission to switch projects, and it made all the difference.

To help you decide whether you’re going to stick with this manuscript or not, I’m going to ask you the same question my mentor asked me, and expand on it. How much do you love this novel and the characters? How strongly do you feel about telling this story? If you care about it so much, why has it taken you so long to write it? What is truly getting in your way of finishing this novel? Not having time or the energy to write are not valid excuses. What is the real reason you aren’t writing? Is it really that you don’t want to write this novel? Or are you avoiding something to do with your writing career?

When you answer those questions, you will know what to do. Let me know what you decide!

Creatively yours, Sherry


Sherry Peters“Dear Sherry” is an opportunity to ask for advice on writer’s/creativity block, time management, the process of writing, and more. Sherry Peters is a Certified Life Coach who works with writers at all stages of their writing career looking to increase their productivity through pushing past the self-doubt holding them back. Her fiction has won the Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-book award, and been nominated for the Aurora Award, Canada’s top prize for Speculative fiction.

If you could ask a writing coach anything, here is your chance! Send her an e-mail at coachsherry@sherrypeters.com.

4 Comments

  • Lane Robins October 7, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    I agree, Sherry. Sometimes you just have to walk away from a project. On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt to sketch out your ideas for the ending! That way, when you eventually come back to it, you’ll have a guideline for where you intended to go! And you might even see where you went wrong the first time.

    Reply
    • sherrypeters October 7, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Great suggestions, Lane!

      Reply
    • Shara White October 7, 2016 at 3:35 pm

      Amen to taking notes. I went back to a project one time after just four months off, thinking I would remember the details, but nope. They POOFED! Still haven’t remembered them, despite finishing the writing of the book.

      Reply
  • Lindsay Kitson October 13, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    I agree too – I’ve had a few projects that I’ve set aside, often meaning to go back to them, but never have, but then much later realized I had taken some of the core ideas that I loved the most in those projects, and used them in new projects that were far more viable and sophisticated, with more solid plotting and less tired worldbuilding. If “killing your babies” is a thing in writing, I see this as devouring my young. 😀

    Reply

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