Monday, July 5, 2010

The Age Old Question: Revise or Trunk?

Right. So. I wrote a book before I wrote DIVERGENT. The abbreviation it's always gone by on the blog is "TM," which at the time was short for "The Manuscript," so that's what I'll call it now.

The first draft of TM took me just under a year to write. I think most of that time was spent figuring out how to write a novel, period, and not necessarily how to write that novel. It was a great experience, and I don't regret a second of it, but at a certain point I decided to throw TM in the trunk and lock it. (Much to the dismay of some of my lovely beta readers, who were really rooting for it, which I still appreciate.)

But here's the timeline:

May: Finished first draft
May-June: Revised first draft
July: Midwest Writer's Conference; pitch session; first partial request (Screams of glee!)
Later in July: EXTENSIVE REVISIONS
August-Septemberish: Mad querying rampage
Septemberish: Request for revisions based on the partial (Screams of somewhat-more-subdued glee!)
Septemberish: MORE CRAZY REVISIONS
Septemberish-Decemberish: Slew of rejections! Query revisions! More rejections! REJECTION STORM.
Decemberish: Rejection based on revised partial
Decemberish: Trunketty trunk

Here is the question I'm asking myself: why did I decide to trunk rather than revise? Well, first of all, I had revised three times already, and I genuinely felt that the manuscript was as strong and as clean as I was going to get it on my own.

I also decided that the flaw was not in the writing or the execution, but in the concept of the novel itself, which was not terrible or anything, but wasn't unique enough to stand out. If I had written a novel before TM, I might have known this earlier, like when I tried to isolate "the unique factor" in my query letter and I had major trouble doing that. (That is a definite warning sign.)

Ultimately I also decided that even if an agent were to love my manuscript, and sign me, and an editor bought it, and I got published-- was TM really what I wanted to come out of the gate with in my writing career? Not so much.

I think this is a pretty hard and fast rule: if you imagine the best-case scenario for your book, and you're unsure that that's what you really want...trunk it.

But I've been seeing this question everywhere lately: should I revise or give up? And most of the time, I have no idea how to answer that. It really depends on you, on how much you love the manuscript, on how well-written it is, on the novel's concept, et cetera.

I am pretty ruthless with myself when it comes to writing, most of the time in a good way. If a character or a scene or a line isn't working like it should, I'll break out the axe, I've got no problem with it. (Side note: This sometimes backfires. Because sometimes, you really do have to fight for the good stuff, and if you're hacking away at everything all the time, you won't stop to consider what the good stuff is.) Anyway, when I asked myself these questions, I was viciously honest with myself, and I recommend that anyone considering trunking something does the same:


Have I revised to the best of my ability?
Is the voice of this manuscript strong and interesting?
Is the concept of this manuscript unique? Like: really unique?
Is this manuscript worth the time and effort of extensive revisions?
Is this the novel I want to start my writing career with, if all goes well?


And I decided:

Yes.
Eh.
No.
No.
No.


Giving up on TM was one of the best moves I've ever made, because it left me free to write DIVERGENT, which is far more interesting and a stronger work in general. I think trunking a manuscript can be scary because it feels like backpedaling to when you started writing your last manuscript. Like you're admitting that you wasted time. Of course, we all know that you didn't waste time, because you learned valuable lessons from that trunked manuscript. But that doesn't really change the way it feels.

But if that's the only reason you're not trunking it...trunk it. Write something else. Write something BETTER. BE BRAVE. Trunking a novel gives you a clean slate. You can decide what kind of writer you want to be.

So those are my thoughts. And I am really curious: does anyone else have thoughts? How do you know when to trunk a manuscript, and when to revise it?

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