Monday, May 18, 2009

It's Not You, It's Me

[ETA: Clarification: the manuscript I'm talking about in this post is NOT the manuscript I worked on this weekend--it's the one I put aside in order to work on the current manuscript.]

I should be tallying entries for my book giveaway, and I will, I promise, but the universe is conspiring to make me write a post that I didn't think I'd actually write.

Confession time.

Last summer, I finished a manuscript for a middle grade fantasy. It wasn't the first manuscript I'd ever finished, but it was the best. I went to a conference with that manuscript, and at the end of it, I rewrote the entire thing with the advice of an agent. I sent the manuscript through critique group 1, added polish based on their crits, and sent the manuscript through critique group 2, and added more polish. I went through word by word and big picture changes. I found some amazing beta readers (who I still adore), and gathered their comments for a final polish.

In front of me was a manuscript I thought I adored. The story was complete, whole, polished to a shine.

I sent it off to agents. I had four requests for fulls and two requests for partials right of the bat. I've never done this well in the query stage before ever.

And then the rejections started to trickle in.

Some of the agents mentioned that the voice felt lost about the middle of the story.

It did.

Because about there, in that middle, is where I fell out of love with the manuscript.

Somewhere in the process of writing and revising and polishing...I fell out of love with that manuscript. I wasn't going to say anything here--I felt very guilty for seeking so much advice from beta readers and critique partners, and I didn't want anyone to think I'd given up. This is about the time that I wrote the post about being in love with your manuscript, because that's about the time that I realized that I really wasn't any more.

Here's how I knew I wasn't in love with it:
  • Critiquers gave very real, valid, and harsh advice for changing the manuscript. It didn't sting at all. I just looked at the advice, thought "Yeah, that's true, I do need to change that," and wasn't terribly inspired to make it better or worse.
  • The first chapter of the manuscript went through an online critique workshop, where the criticism was even more snarky. It did not phase me at all--not in that I was confident in my work, but it was almost as if I were reading something written by someone else, I felt so disconnected from that manuscript.
  • The agents who rejected my full gave a reason why (the voice felt lost in the middle), and I was reluctant to change it, not because I was in love with my words, but because it felt almost tedious.
I am perfectly aware that all of this sounds as if I gave up on that manuscript...and maybe I did. I've put it aside, along with all my notes and critiques, and if I feel that old spark for that manuscript again, I know I'll pick it back up.

And I do have a history of doing this. My first manuscript was clearly a Narnia rip-off--but because I wrote that one, I was able to write the next one, which I still love. The manuscript after that was one I wrote in response to a death in my family, and although the story isn't well written, I had to write it in order to move on to other stories. I could easily put those manuscripts aside because they were clearly practice novels--something I realized almost as soon as I finished writing them.

But this last manuscript wasn't a practice novel. It was the one I wrote specifically because I thought it was a publishable idea, and I spent months polishing it.

But I didn't love it any more.

And you can't force love.

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, first, Michelle at The Innocent Flower posted about how she was considerin divorce with her manuscript. Then Courtney Summers posted about the painfully long editing process she took with her last manuscript. Michelle's post made me realize that I was not the only one to fall out of love with my manuscript, which (although I hate that it's happening to her) made me feel a little better about my own situation. And Courtney's manuscript made me realize that if I had to go through that much revision with that manuscript I didn't love...I couldn't do it. I don't care about it enough to do that level of revision to. (But I would do it for my manuscripts that I love...there's a distinct difference between the two.)

What made me fall out of love with my manuscript?
  • I was writing an idea that I thought would sell. It started off as a fun idea that I wanted to write, but turned into thoughts of "Hey, this is pretty marketable! I can sell this!" Unconsciously, I started shaping my novel into my perception of what would be popular, not necessarily the story I loved.
  • I took every criticism to heart. I didn't make every single change suggested by critiquers, but I do think that part of my novel was critiqued to death: a part of it became no longer mine because I was so intent on what others thought of it.
  • I was absorbed with this one manuscript. It occupied every writing thought for several months straight, to the point where I'd read the thing so much that I was simply sick of it.
  • I got another idea. One I loved. And there's really no comparison between working on something you don't love and working on something you do love.
  • I became a little ashamed of this manuscript. It wasn't good enough. I wouldn't want that one to be my debut novel. It felt cheap and easy and sloppy.
  • Changing the manuscript from one I didn't love to one I did was forced, like kissing a mannequin.
So, what now?
  • I've put that manuscript aside. I had to, before my not-liking-it turned into hating-it.
  • I've kept all my notes...but in a separate folder.
  • I plan to go back to this manuscript after I finish the one I'm working on now. My theory is, if I can spend some time away from that manuscript, I may realize more specifically what parts of it I've fallen out of love with...and then I might be able to fix it. Also, by spacing working on this manuscript with working on the one I'm currently writing, I might be able to give myself some editorial distance from both.
In the end, I don't have any real words to say. Just that, falling out of love with a manuscript does happen. Now, I'm ignoring the manuscript. Not quite forgotten, but we're like two best friends who have drifted apart, waiting to see if, when we meet again later, we can reconnect.
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