Monday, August 16, 2010

The cure for "resting" manuscripts

Writers are notorious for hiding in their bedrooms, surrounded by books written by other people, while working endlessly on their manuscripts. The story never feels polished enough for other people's eyes. They'll work and work, then decide to "let it rest" by setting the manuscript aside to work on something else that's been "resting." After a while, a writer can stack up a lot of "resting" projects.

Or is that just me?

I have eight manuscripts resting right now: 3 plays, 2 novels, 1 essay and 2 short stories. I'm waiting for feedback on a play and the essay, but I've had plenty of feedback on the others to jump back in and finish. But now the problem is the manuscripts have piled up so deep I don't know which one to start with. Should I chose the one closest to completion, or the ones who've been waiting in the drawer the longest? The one I might have time to actually finish? The one that is easiest to work on? Or start with the hardest and work my way through with diligence?

And I can't blame it all on grad school and motherhood either. I started most of these projects before school started, back when I had plenty of time to finish them. In all the years I've been writing, I've managed to fully complete four things: a 10 minute play which was performed two years ago at Mendocino College; two essays which both appeared in Hip Mama magazine several years apart; and one short story which might be published in an anthology. The rest of the thousands of pages I've written have either gone into the garbage or are now "resting," because setting something aside to rest means you're still working on it. You don't have to hold it up and say to the world, "This is my best work."

That's the reason we writers set manuscripts aside before completing them, at least that's why I do it. Never finishing something means I gain the satisfaction of being a writer without the humiliation of not being good enough for other people's reading eyes. There are no rejection letters when I let a manuscript rest, and I can always go back to it and keep polishing until it's surpasses perfection, which is impossible for anyone, even Tony Morrison, to achieve (although that woman comes pretty damn close).

But another reason I never finish anything is pure boredom. Revising until you have a finished, polished manuscript suitable for possible publication is boring! Tedious! Dull! There is nothing new or exciting anymore; all the characters have been developed and the plot plotted. You know how it ends and how the story gets there. There are no new discoveries, just plain-old-boring word manipulation. Yawn...

What's the cure for chronic manuscript resting? I suppose just grabbing a manuscript, sitting your butt in the chair and working on it until it's finished is a good way to break the cycle. That's what I tell my writers to do, but I'm obviously terrible at taking my own advice. So what is a writer to do with eight manuscripts resting?

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe...



Your dilema is a universal one concerning writing projects. I have a "manual" and a collectionn of essays that are just sitting in my closet. I know that I feel guilty for sleeping on the projects but I tend to agree with what Charles Bukowski said about writing which is only write if you feel inspired to do so. Otherwise it suffers as it becomes forced.

meyerprints said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick said...

dont fotget "what you need to know to be a pro". that was a hard one and it came out great.

you hubby and cheerleader

Terena said...

Rick, you are wonderful. I did indeed forget my own book! What is that about?

Israel, I love Bukowski, and I agree with him, mostly. But I think there's a point where revision goes beyond inspiration and becomes closer to surgery. You've written everything your inspiration demanded, but does it make sense to anyone else but you?