What To Do After You Give Up
Here are the previous parts of this series on when to give up on a manuscript.
Last week, in Part 3 we looked in detail at procedures to create a "wrecking ball" to demolish any brick wall your subconscious creates that prevents you from finishing a manuscript.
Bottom line is, if you can finish the first draft, you can let your subconscious off the hook, no matter how unpublishable or unusable that first draft might be.
But finish it you must.
If you intend to make a living at writing, either fiction or non-fiction, you can't afford to train your subconscious to present you with unpublishable ideas then just abandon you to flounder around aimlessly. If you let your lazy or spoiled-brat subconscious off the hook that easily, you will starve, get evicted, etc. There's no unemployment insurance for writers.
You must produce publishable words, every day, at all costs. It is just like having a factory job where you have to put Part 12 into an assembly of 58 Parts, you have to show up on time, produce precision work, and get out of the way of the next shift of workers. Or you are fired.
That's what publishing is (or always has been -- this is changing fast)
See my series on Marketing Fiction In A Changing World:
Publishing is an assembly line, and the writer has a spot on that assembly line. You are not at the beginning, nor at the end, and you don't have the "middle" spot either. But if you don't do your job, nobody else can do theirs and earn their daily bread.
Marketing is a different subject, but it does converge on this subject -- giving UP on a project, and how to do it gracefully as well as profit from the disaster.
The big, international publishers, the writers organizations, and every component of the marketing chain are in serious turmoil, reconsidering how fiction is delivered. I've been watching some discussions on LinkedIn. Change is in the air.
Don't take your eye off the business end of the move to Streaming and away from Cable. If you don't understand the import of that, read some history on the advent of Cable (the sneering was incredible), and look at audience share figures before, during, and after that transition. Then think about Satellite delivery, now the internet. All of that matters, because what is a usable project for one delivery system is unusable in another.
So now we need to consider what to do with a project your subconscious prompted you to dive into, then smashed you against a brick wall (for whatever reason). Now you have taken your subconscious in hand, firmly rubbed its nose in the mess it made (see Part 3 in this series for how to do that), and you have finished the manuscript's first draft by sheer force of will power.
Look around at the available markets -- in the few weeks it takes to write a novel, the market has morphed a couple times already.
What was unusable three months ago may be just what they are screaming for now.
If you do not see a market that would be appropriate for the piece you have produced (even with some considerable rewriting), you may have to give up on this project for now.
If you do see someplace you'd never considered marketing your work before, you should investigate because your subconscious (though it fought bitterly) may have guided you to your bread-and-butter market.
Now a bread-and-butter market isn't necessarily what you, personally, want to be known to be writing. For example, the wife of a professional cleric might not want to have her married name bandied about in Erotica circles -- or her husband might not.
That's what Pen Names are for, and I gave you the link to the entry on pen names last week.
Usually, a writer who uses pen names makes their daily living from one pen name, and does that matters to the heart and soul under a different pen name.
Artistically, you might think that when you put your heart and soul into a work, it should be your hottest product in the market place. Sometimes that's how it works, but sometimes not.
Keep an open mind on this subject, and in a few decades you might want to converge the pen-names you've established into one byline. But you may find the fans of one pen name just don't have any interest in the product of another. That's marketing!
So if you find an open market which this ruined mess of a salvaged manuscript could go to (maybe with a little rewriting), then polish it up, proof it, take beta-comments, fix inconsistencies, and submit.
Sometimes, if you have an Agent for one genre, that agent just won't want to handle this other genre or media delivery.
Many writers have several agents, one for books, one for screenplays, one for graphic novels, one for foreign rights -- there are a lot of specialties now, and I'm sure new agent specialties will emerge as we re-design this system to fit the modern world.
Some agent contracts preclude your submitting a work all by yourself -- be sure not to offend an agent who's bringing you work by not-looping them on this decision.
So, if you see a market, send this orphan work to market. If it sells, fine, if not OK.
By taking it to market, you are teaching your subconscious that the messes it makes will become public. This will be a major deterrent to future messes.
If your agent or an editor rejects the project, that's OK because it still trains your subconscious to work professionally.
After it's been rejected -- or if you found no potential market, after you've finished trying to find a way to market it -- what do you do?
This is now a manuscript that used to be put "in the bottom drawer."
Of course, we don't have drawers in our computers, but we do have folders.
You need a directory tree entry called something like "unpublished."
Leave yourself a note regarding what has to be done to this manuscript to polish it for market -- and what elements it contains that labels it as a certain genre, what might be deleted to change that genre signature, and anything else you've been thinking about it.
Then put it AWAY in this "bottom drawer.'
As I said, the market is changing. This morphing market is changing more drastically than ever in my professional lifetime, but not any more than say, the advent of movable type, cheap paper, railroad transportation, Color Cover Printing.
The way the world around us changes does affect what kind of fiction we want, and how we find and access it.
So in a couple of years, or a few, or perhaps a couple decades, that particular story may be suitable for a brand new market, requiring only another draft to be salable.
That has never happened to me, personally (though I know people who have had it happen). But nothing I've written has yet gone to waste, though I have some pieces that have markets and I have no time to bring them up. So I have a pending folder.
Some of the early material that I produced that is demonstrably unpublishable is posted online at simegen.com in the School section or in /sgfandom section, as lessons.
Your detritus may prove useful in that way as well, so don't let it become lost.
The most likely use for detritus after you give up on it ever being publishable is as a source.
Yes, a Source.
This kind of detritus is like Still Tailings (the parts of a distillation that come first or last, while the pure stuff comes in the middle of the distillation.)
Or it is like gold ore rather than a gold nugget panned from a stream.
It is raw material filled with the active ingredients that are of the most value to you.
Never throw anything away. Never burn a manuscript. Never security-delete a manuscript, or notes on stories. It is all valuable for something.
There's an opening scene clogging up the story flow in the middle of some mess you made.
There's a dynamite blow-off ending lurking in the first chapter of some throw-away mess.
There's a character whose story is your life's work, wandering through the edge of some unusuable garbage.
Or it could be just a fragment of a character, a character-forming incident in some bit of nonsense you produced to fill a gap and force your subconscious to keep nose-to-grindstone.
During that exercise of Will Power and Endurance to inculcate self-discipline into your subconscious, it will get mad enough at you to spit out what is really bothering it. But you won't recognize that golden nugget at first -- could take decades for your Aha! moment.
When it finally dawns on you, you will want to look at that old stuff again, so don't delete it.
After you've looked over what you wrote, don't despair. Yes, it's AWFUL - but nevermind. What you intended to inject into that character, that scene, that theme, the passion and life that suddenly surfaces now, decades later, milled to a fine gloss by your now-trained and skilled subconscious, is very probably your Masterwork.
I've seen that happen to other writers.
The story you were born to contribute to this world, the story the world really needs to absorb, is present in those first haphazard story ideas, those aborted works, and those brick walls.
The brick wall happens because of lack of craft skills you have forgotten mastering.
You know the cliche, "She's forgotten more about X than you'll ever know."
A skill mastered and forgotten is a skill that has sunk into the subconscious and trained it to produce fine work.
Of course, that works the opposite way, too. If you train your subconscious to bad habits, it produces useless products, or even self-destructive behavior. Sloppy thinking does not produce a neat life.
So train your subconscious by taking a wrecking ball to any brick wall it runs you into, finish everything you start (even if awkwardly or ineptly). Remember, writing is in the rewriting.
Marketing may very well be in the re-marketing. That's why there is such a thing as "re-branding" -- and very nice livings to be made in that profession!
Launch your career in professional writing with the full knowledge that in order to reach the goal you saw at first, you must learn and practice new craft skills every day.
Don't worry about running out of skills to master. The tech evolution we're in will continue to supply new skills for story tellers throughout your entire life time.
When you've acquired the necessary skills, you will know what to do with that half-baked Idea that ended up in your computer-bottom-drawer.
Just remember, Writing Is A Performing Art -- just like dance, music, acting. It is all about The Beat, the rhythm of life. March to your own drummer.