This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators New England regional conference (NESCBWI) While there, I received a wealth of information. If I tried to write down all of the advice, you would be reading this for hours. Instead, I plan to separate what I learned into various posts.
I figured I would start with a bit of advice I heard multiple times through out the conference. On Saturday, our keynote speaker Melissa Sweet spoke about how art slows us down and allows us to think. She explained how E.B. White set aside Charlotte’s Web after he first started it, because it wasn’t ready. When he finally came back to it, he had his story. Then, during my manuscript critique, I asked agent Brooks Sherman his thoughts on whether or not I should continue to edit my Young Adult fantasy or focus instead on the Young Adult contemporary I’m drafting. His advice was, because the market is competitive for both, to work on the one that I am more excited about. And finally, on Sunday, the one and only Jane Yolen gave us nine tips. One of them was that nothing is lost forever in the book world or in your files. Sometimes you’re just not old enough, talented enough, or ready enough to write that particular manuscript. So, where does this all lead me?
Drum roll please….
WHEN TO PUT DOWN YOUR MANUSCRIPT!!!
Yes, you could have gotten that from the title, but don’t deny me that amazing gif.
Imagine having an idea that springs from the recesses of your mind and you have to write it. So you sit down and you create the main character, the setting, and the plot. You have an antagonist and stakes. But the story isn’t coming. It feels forced and you spend more time wanting to smash your computer than gushing about the story.
This has seriously been me for the past year. I had this really cool idea about a biologist in a magical world. Instantly, I had the world and my character, but came up with a very forced plot. The plot I had made my character into someone I couldn’t write. So, I set the manuscript down for about three months as I went back and worked on a R&R (revise and resubmit) for another manuscript. When that was finished, I came back with a refreshed brain. I had a new twist on the plot and I began to work. But, my character was still off because of how I started. When I finished, I revised TWICE before even sending it to my critique partners. During the month they had it, I began researching for a new idea. Then, I got their notes. And guess what? I had to change most of the story.
During this whole time, I had another idea brewing in my mind. Before I’d come up with this fantasy, I’d begun a contemporary. Because contemporary wasn’t my strong suit, the beginning didn’t go well. So after about four chapters, I set it aside. But the idea stuck with me and through the turmoil of the past year, it grew and it grew. I began to read more YA contemporary and found a few that I absolutely loved. Though, I still refuse to pick up Adam Silvera‘s books because I’m afraid I will become a blubbering mess.
Since I was on small edits with my fantasy, I began to write the contemporary. And the words flowed out of me. I am about three weeks in, and over 40K done. When Brooks asked me about it, my face lit up and I couldn’t stop gushing over how much I loved this work. Don’t get me wrong, I love my fantasy. But my heart is in this contemporary.
For the time being, I plan to put the fantasy aside, let some ideas stew, and finish the contemporary. Who knows? Maybe I’ll figure out a way to fix the fantasy while my critique partners read the contemporary, or maybe this is the story that I’m meant to write here and now.
Like Jane Yolen said, nothing is lost forever in the book world or even your files. Even she set aside manuscripts that had been rejected, and when she pulled them out years later, they were published.
So, don’t be afraid to put down that manuscript that just isn’t working, or has maybe had a handful of requests through querying but can’t seem to get that final yes. The publishing world is about perseverance and dedication, but it’s also about luck. You have to hit the right agent or editor with the right manuscript at the right time.
Do you have a manuscript you’re thinking of putting to the side? Or one that you’ve taken out of your files? Questions? Share in the comments!