Sunday, February 11, 2007

Out With the Old?

I love weekend free for alls on TBR, since I guess we can post whatever is on our minds, right?

So here's a question that I've been mulling lately -- I'm not a packrat by nature, I believe in throwing things out, reducing clutter, but I do keep old manuscripts in my computer folders, partials that went no where. They are manuscripts that were unfinished or rejected, maybe a line closed that I had been targeting, or the thing called for revisions I didn't want to do at the time, or simply no one wanted it. In one case, I took the story and placed it as a serialized "free read" on my website -- that was fun, but I don't want to do it with all of them. A few have come back and started teasing my imagination again as I see slots opening up in the publishing world where they might be more welcome than they were before, but would it be worth the effort to revise and resubmit them? I am not a packrat, but I also hate waste -- those manuscripts represent time and effort, and if I can bring them forward and use them, I like that idea, but then I wonder, is it worth it? Should I let the past stay in the past, and move on to new ideas?

What do you do with old manuscripts that never sold or that fell by the wayside for whatever reason? Are they representative of an "old you" and so leaving them in the past is the best choice, or are they worth resurrecting and taking out, polishing off, and revising? Does anyone have stories about old manuscripts they've dusted off and then revised and sold? How long did they stay in their drawer or under the bed? What made you haul them out again? What had to be done to update them? What insights did you discover?

As I look back at work that I let fall behind me, I'm wondering about the value of revisiting or updating old work for a new whirl -- what do you think?



Christie Craig said...


Good post, good question. I’m not an expert, but I will share with you my thoughts and what I’ve done in the past. I have one manuscript -- my very first-- that I know will never see the light of day. My second manuscript actually was a GH finalist. But it was rejected.

Several years later, I reread the first three chapters and then started writing the story all over again. My reasons for starting from scratch instead of trying to revise were that I was afraid I couldn't see the mistakes in my own work. So rewriting fresh helped. I sold the book to Silhouette.

In the last five years, I've written eight books. Two of those books were rejected by one or more editors. Because I really felt strong about the stories, I rewrote them to fit other markets. And those two books were among my recent sales.

This said, I personally know other writers who have worked on the same book for years, and I think they are hurting themselves by not moving on. I have three historicals in that batch of eight completed books. Every now and then, I toy with the idea of pulling them out. But deep down, I don’t know if the time invested in the rewrites wouldn’t be better spent working a new project. However, I also have a proposal that my agent doesn’t love that I wrote less than a year ago. I’ve shelved it for now, but I do think I’ll be pulling it out again. Maybe then I’ll be able to see the flaws my agent sees in the manuscript, or maybe I’ll do some minor tweaking and sell it like I did my others. Only time will tell.

So I guess what I believe about going back to old works is that it depends on the story and how strongly you feel about writing it. I’d weigh all that against the marketability of the project. Then you need to ask yourself if are you looking at it with rose-colored glasses and not seeing the major faults.


Good luck on deciding what’s right for you.


Dr. Bill Emener said...

First, I agree with Christie -- excellent Post, great question.

I tend to be a pack rat myself; but pathology aside, I have found one benefit. As I occasionally have been working on a book and I get to a place where I'm not sure how to start or end a scene, I remember a similar scene from a previous (unpublished) writing. By going back to it (and some are in dust-covered three-ring binders), I am able to revisit the old scene, see the details, and essentially use it (with modifications) in my new writing. Sometimes there are excellent pieces (e.g., lines and scenes) in poor (unpublished) books.

At least that's been my experience and hope it helps you shed some light on your own experience and dilemma.

With all best wishes,


Alexis Morgan said...

I've always hung on to my idea file, a few unsold proposals, and even a few scenes that I've written with the intent of sometime developing a story around them. Most of the time they just continue to collect dust.

However, a few years ago, I wrote three chapters of an idea that wouldn't leave me alone, only to run out of steam at that point. Last year, when I was starting my second Paladin book, I knew the hero and heroine had had a past relationship, but I was struggling with what it had been. Then I remembered those three chapters. They formed the backstory that brought my two characters together. It was like all of sudden everything clicked.

So now, even if I wanted to get rid of some of the cobwebbed stacks of paper, I'm afraid to for fear of losing something I might need in a future book. 8-D

JoAnn Ross said...

I have old ideas. Unfortunately, most are on long dead computers. Though coincidentally, I did stumble across an old zip drive in a suitcase I was cleaning out to give to Goodwill last night. Hmm. Too bad I no longer have a computer that'll read it. LOL

Having said that, I'm a firm believer in keeping deleted scenes, files etc. And, on occasion, have actually found a place in a new book for a scene. One danger is loving one so much that even after you delete it from one manuscript, you try to shove it into another and pretty soon you're trying to build an entire book around a scene that didn't work the first time. Okay, maybe you wouldn't do that. But I have. :)

I've been lucky that once I made that first sale back in 1982, I haven't had a book rejected, but some take longer to gel than others.

I worked on No Regrets, aka my Mira nun secret baby book, for five years while writing other books, but I don't consider that a shelved book because I knew I was going to write it. It just took that long to get a handle on a story that covered the interconnected lives of four couples over thirteen years.

More recently, I had the same thing with No Safe Place , which -- although it was between 1/2 and 2/3 done -- I decided to shelve the weekend of Katrina; but again, that was only put aside for six months, until I could get enough daily information to at least guess what New Orleans might be like a few months down the road.

I turned the book in in August, and so far -- fingers crossed -- the city should still be pretty much what I described when the book hits the stores in a couple weeks.

As for saving actual hard copies of any ms; nope, I quit doing that years ago. They just take up way too much room.

JoAnn Ross said...

By the way, I didn't mean I'd never been rejected; obviously, when you multiple submit, not everyone is going to say Yes. (What is wrong with those short-sighted people, anyway? LOL) What I meant to say was that every book eventually found a home at some house.

Lois Winston said...

Go for it! About a year and a half ago I revisited the first book I ever wrote -- the one before I knew anything about anything, the book I thought would never and should never see the light of day. But the characters kept nagging at me, even after all these years, and I decided to revisit them. A 50K romance that spanned 35 years (I was really, really clueless back when I wrote that book!) became a 95K romantic suspense that spanned a few months. My agent sent it out, and it sold! So you never know. If you've got the urge to revisit some of that old stuff that's hidden away in your computer, you might just find a really rough gem that needs a lot of polishing but is worth the effort. Good luck!

Nancy Morse said...

I'm definitely a pack rat. I have a 6-drawer file cabinet in my garage where I keep all my old mss, the ones that sold, the ones that didn't. As for re-working old stories, it's kind of like that TV show Extreme Makeover. With a nip and tuck here and there, a much needed nose-job and a few DaVinci porcelain veneers, you can turn your old ms into a beauty that might catch an editor's eye. You can also canabalize the good parts of an old ms and adapt them to a new story. Sometimes it feels a little like eating your young, but just think of the Donner party who did what they had to do to stay alive. Then, with a brand new title, your sparkling new beauty is ready for her big reveal.

Christie Craig said...


Eatting your young? Love it!


Samantha Hunter said...

Wow -- thanks for all the great stories and thoughts on this. You know, I never have really thought about keeping my deleted scenes (what I call my snips file) after the book they came from was done -- never occurred to me they could fit or inspire another book -- I may start doing that.

I have two incomplete mss that I may revise for category lines, one full that was an ST initially but had too much of a category voice, so maybe should send it there, actually, and a category series proposal that with some work could be another ST proposal -- however, it's not paranormal. I suppose that doesn't matter? Can you have different genres out there all at once? I always feel like I have to be in one genre at a time, but maybe not... could help avoid boredom to have different things going. Then again, there's the issue of my sporadic concentration... Writing in a bunch of different genres at once makes me think of my dad saying "your eyes are bigger than your stomach," if that carries over...

LOL on the 50K generational book...there's a spot for something like that now, of course, in Everlasting. ;)

Thanks for the great thoughts! I love this place,