How a Troublesome Manuscript Was Saved

ACFWAdvice, Authors and writing, Characters, Encouragement, Perseverance, revisions, writing 2 Comments

by Glynn Young

Hold on to those unfinished or problematic manuscripts. You never know when they’re due for a rebirth.

You pour everything into creating a manuscript. You type “The End.” You smile and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. It’s done. You finished it.

You set it aside for a few days, and then you reread it.

You see a problem, but you know it can be easily fixed. You read on. Another problem, and another theoretical fix. You plow on, right to the end, and you realize what the problem is. The problem is the entire manuscript. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t tell the story you want told. It
doesn’t tell the story the characters want told. And you think to yourself, “All that work. All that work.”

We used to set problem manuscripts in a drawer or file cabinet. Now we consign them to a file folder on the computer, something like “Old manuscripts.” Or, in a more hopeful vein, “Needs work.” And you go on to other ideas, other stories.

But it sits there in that folder, not exactly gathering dust but certainly getting a bit of age on it. You occasionally open it, like at the title page, and remember the excitement when it seemed like the best story ever. You smile, shake your head, and close the file.

This is a true story. It happened to me. It was so discouraging that I almost stopped writing altogether. I did, finally, go on to another project, but I felt this huge regret for the story that wasn’t to be. I had been so sure, so confident that it was the best story I’d ever written. And it

I was in the middle of another writing project when a face appeared. The face of a five-year-old girl, it had nothing to do with the story in front of me. The face even had a name, just like that. Who was this kid? I could see her, but there was no connection to anything I was working on,
completed, published, or imagined.

I ignored her. I continued with the project at hand. But she kept returning at the oddest times, like at the grocery store, the gas station, the doctor’s office, and even during worship at church. Especially during worship at church. After several weeks of dealing with this imaginary kid, I had to think through what was going on.

Realization hit. She was showing up at places where she would be accompanied by an adult. Somewhere, somehow, she was connecting to another character I’d created. And then she told me herself: “He gives it up to take care of me.”

A vague clue at best, but that thought sent me right to my desktop computer, to the “Needs work” file folder. I knew which manuscript was involved, the one I ‘d spent so much time on, and for naught, or so I thought. I started reading, wondering where my five-year-old kid fit.
And then I saw it. It wasn’t the most obvious answer, but there it was. I knew it would require a complete transformation of the story and a huge overhaul of the manuscript, otherwise known as a lot of hard work. But that kid was the solution to my problematic story.

She taught me a valuable lesson. Hold on to your orphans, your stories that you think may never or should never see the light of day. The unbidden face of a five-year-old girl may tell you you’re mistaken.

Glynn Young is a national award-winning speechwriter, communications practitioner, and novelist. He’s the author of five published novels, Dancing PriestA Light ShiningDancing KingDancing Prophet;  and Dancing Prince; and the non-fiction book Poetry at WorkVisit Glynn on FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterest, his blog, the Dancing Priest book page, and his business web site.

Comments 2

  1. About 20 years ago I wrote a YA sci fi novel that got 40 rejections from agents and publishers. I left it and moved on to write eight novels and learn more about good writing. Earlier this year, I decided to shift into the SF field. The old novel had been written on another computer, but with a few tweaks I recovered the files. On reading it I saw why it didn’t sell! I kept the main characters and the setting but changed it to adult SF/mystery, threw out 250 pages, revised the rest and added new material. A new publishing house wants to read it. Timing is everything.

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