Tuesday, April 08, 2014

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript Part 2, Troubleshooting by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript
Part 2
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Face it, humans make mistakes; even writers make mistakes.

Writers have an advantage, though.  If discovered before anyone else reads the manuscript, an error can be corrected, and nobody will ever know how fallible you are.

The problem though is that structural errors are even more elusive than typos.  A writer who knows and understands her characters, who can hear them talking (well, yelling) at each other, making out, flirting, getting to second base, will have the worst time with structure.

That's correct -- the very best writers who produce the very, very best fiction, are the blindest to their own structural errors.

This is easy enough to understand if you've been following this blog for a few years.  You know how much of what the reader loves most about a Romance Novel is created in the writer's subconscious.  So when the subconscious gets cute and clever and decides to have fun at your expense, the writer can't see what happened because it happened outside of the conscious mind. 

A well trained subconscious can be trusted to present great stories already formatted for the genre where the story will sell best.  The most fun you can give your subconscious is a best seller. 

We've gone through many exercises to train the subconscious, so we won't repeat them here.  For the most part, the way to train your subconscious to produce publishable stories with a clear genre signature is to trust your subconscious.

When your subconscious yells, "Here's a Great Idea!" just sit down and write it. 

OK, the first scribbles should be what you use for an "outline" -- whatever notes that capture that initial burst of creative vision and configure it for a market.

Here are some entries that discuss this process:

The objective is to hit the springboard of the idea with all your weight and leap for the sky and even for orbit.

Make a habit of taking that leap the instant your subconscious delivers an Idea, and you train your subconscious to deliver more Ideas because you've rewarded it with FUN. 

Here is the index post to Story Springboards, how to create and use them. 


If the idea is really hot, you may be 1/3 to 1/2 the way through typing the novel at top speed before you come up for air. 

But then you might hit a brick wall -- even at the 3/4 point you might hit a brick wall.

What does it mean to hit a brick wall? 

It means there you sit staring at a blank page and you don't know what happens next.  Or worse, you suddenly realize nothing happens next -- i.e. you're at "the end" but the story or the plot isn't over yet. 

Maybe you suddenly understand that the ending you had in mind just won't work -- it's not satisfying, or for some reason you don't want to write it that way.

Perhaps you just sit there exhausted and without any further interest in this story.

That happens, even when you've already sold the novel on the basis of a 1-paragraph description, signed the contract, cashed the check, spent the money -- and you have a deadline you suddenly realize you can't meet.

What do you do?

One obvious tactic is to abandon that entire manuscript and start over from scratch, crafting a story that actually fulfills the contract requirements. 

I'm sure you've read many such novels.  Ordinarily, they don't rank with a writer's best work, and you as a fan of that writer, may be so disappointed you don't buy her next book.

So abandoning a nearly done manuscript is a last resort, something to be avoided.  We'll discuss what to do with abandoned manuscripts in another part in this series.

In any event, no matter what, tabling a manuscript in midst of first draft is not an option.

It simply is not an option -- if, that is, you intend to become a professional writer that editors can depend on to fulfill contracts.

If you find you've hit that brick wall (and it's not writer's block, but a totally different phenomenon), and you just shrug and pick up some other project, you are training your subconscious to create un-writable stories, unpublishable, un-usable work.  You're rewarding bad behavior. 

You are rewarding your subconscious for sloppy work if you let it get away with a half-assed idea like that.

It's like allowing your teenager to walz off to a party leaving their room and the bathroom a tumbled mess, and the kitchen a dysfunctional disaster zone, all for the sake of having a little fun.

Dogs, teens, and even writers, really do live for the fun of it.

Fun is the main objective of life.  FUN is what it's all about, and it is your stock in trade.

FUN is your product.

If you aren't having fun, you have nothing to sell.

Your subconscious is short-sighted like a dog or a teenager.  The more you reward your subconscious by letting it off the hook, by letting it go off to play a different game instead of cleaning up the mess it made, the more messes it will leave littering your life.

And that applies not just to unfinished (or un-finishable) manuscripts, but also to every other aspect of your life.  The detritus piles up around you until you can't move, can't do anything because of all the half-done things you didn't finish.

The only way out of that kind of depression, that paralysis amidst unfulfilled obligations, is discipline.

The inspired productivity of your imagination is symbolized in Astrology by Neptune and Jupiter.

Management of what you produce is symbolized by Saturn -- ruling Capricorn the 10th House of career. 

Saturn is a manager.  Saturn doesn't produce, but reduces, tames, and takes the product of imagination and turns it into something useful.  I Use is the keyword of Capricorn.

Here's an index to my posts on Astrology Just For Writers.


Saturn is the tool you must use to Troubleshoot a failed manuscript.  Mars is the source of the energy to make it so.  But Saturn is the key function.

Everyone has all these planets, signs and Houses somewhere in their personality makeup.  You can draw on, activate, or strengthen these personality elements in yourself and you will then find them turning up in your characters with a lot more Show and a lot less Tell. 

Shifting your "mood" or mental function mode from Creativity (Neptune/Jupiter) to Productivity (Saturn) is a trick unique to your specific personality.  Nobody can teach you how to do this.

Each writer (or other sort of business owner) has a methodology that works for them.  It may take some years to find the one that works best for you.

Some techniques include going shopping, chocolate ice cream, going ball room dancing, maybe horseback riding, playing tennis, cleaning house,  -- anything physical, and especially things that take a bit of courage. 

The principle is to break out of Creative mode.  Running full tilt into a brick wall in a manuscript might do that, but rarely completes the job. 

So after you take a break, then you come back to the manuscript with your head in editorial mode, distanced from the story, absolutely clinical.  Maybe you print out what you've written and take it out on the back porch to sit and read and scribble in margins.  Or maybe you bring it up on your tablet and go to the park to eat popcorn and read it over. 

For more on "editorial mode" here's the link to Part 7 of the series on "What Exactly Is Editing"

It has links to the previous 6 parts on Editing.

So once you have caught your breath after hitting that brick wall, you shift your mood to clinical distance, and discipline your subconscious into cleaning up its mess before you allow it to rush off to play with a different toy.

You have to discipline yourself to break up with one boyfriend before you can allow yourself to go out with another -- if you don't, then your life will get harder not easier.

This is very hard to make yourself do. 

So here are some of the questions to put before yourself as you pick up a Brick Wall Manuscript to Troubleshoot it.

1) Is this story idea salvagable?

   a)if not, what do I do? (shelving the MS is not an option)
   b) if it is, what do I do?

2) Why did I want to write this story?

3) What does this story have to say and to whom (to what market?)

4) Why did I start writing at the point in the life-story of this couple that I did?  Why didn't I have (or stick to) a firm road-map from beginning to end with a dynamite MIDDLE SCENE to pivot around?

5) Why did I choose this Opening?  This first scene?  This first paragraph? 

6) What Ending did I plan to use? 

7) Why is that Ending unreachable from this Beginning?

8) Which is more important to the FUN my readers want, the ENDING or the BEGINNING -- or maybe the MIDDLE?

9) If the MIDDLE event is the most fun in the story, why don't I make that the ENDING?

10) If the BEGINNING is the most fun, why isn't that the ending?  (meaning, back up the timeline of these characters' lives to the point where their story really starts)

Do you see the system here?  Question decisions that you made consciously, then question the decisions you made subconsciously. 

The principle behind this is to LOVE YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS, but treat it kindly as you discipline it.  A "spoiled brat" subconscious will tear your life apart just like a teenage kid driving drunk can kill someone and end up in jail turning his parents' lives into hell for the next 5 years of court litigation.  Don't let the drunken spoiled brat have the car keys. 

You love your subconscious by treasuring the brick wall it created to prevent you from wasting more time writing garbage.

Your subconscious stopped you for a REASON.

Your job as a professional creator of FUN is to find out what that reason is.

It will be a Good Reason (saving you from wasting time) if your subconscious has been well raised under firm but not cruel discipline.  It will be a Bad Reason (causing you to waste time) if you have a spoiled rotten subconscious. 

A spoiled subconscious can be housebroken and civilized, but it takes time and many instances of cleaning up the mess it made. 

A well disciplined subconscious will produce stories that tell themselves, characters that take control of the plot and veer it in an unplanned direction, and the writer will discover delights along the way.

A spoiled brat subconscious will produce characters who yank the plot out of the writer's hands and cavort along drunkenly to nowhere worth going.

If you have a spoiled brat subconscious, you are writing emotional therapy suitable for your eyes only (which might be converted to publishable material later when you've disciplined your subconscious by sending it to Military School.)

If you have a well disciplined subconscious, you may be creating publishable material but you ran into a brick wall because you've made a mistake.  Your subconscious recognized the mistake and stopped you -- returning your kindness for stopping it from spoiled brat behavior.

If your subconscious needs more discipline, then you must rewrite this manuscript, brick wall or not -- to discipline it, and show don't tell it the kind of story you will accept from it.  You must be firm about what is unacceptable behavior.  It will be a difficult job rewriting this mess, and in the end you will not have a publishable manuscript -- or at least not one up to the standards you want for your primary byline.

See these blog entries on Pen Names:



Part 2 has a link to Part 1 on pen names.

If you market the results of a training exercise for a fractious subconscious, it is usually best to create another byline for that material.  That's not the main reason for creating a new byline (or brand), but it is a compelling one.  As noted above, it is most probable that fans of your better work will be disappointed by an exercise in discipline.  But a byline you create for this reason can create fans of its own!  You may just have "found your voice" and a whole new way of writing.

Here are a couple on Voice.


Nothing a writer creates is ever useless.  It's just a matter of finding its proper market.

If your subconscious is disciplined, then you must FIX THIS MANUSCRIPT, and it shouldn't be very hard to do.  The result will be saleable and will please your readers.

No matter where your subconscious is on the road to professionalism, Fixing This Manuscript is a more profitable option than setting it aside, shelving it, or trashing it.

So go to a movie, have ice cream in the park, go jogging or mountain climbing or whatever you do to shift mental gears.  Then work through that list of 10 Questions until you have discovered where your mistake was made, and why.

Armed with that information, go on to read Part 3 of this series on When Should You Give Up On A Manuscript. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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