How to Revive that Dying Manuscript

Last week, I came thisclose to giving up on that memory erasure novel. THISCLOSE.

This would not be the first time I gave up on a manuscript. In fact, it’s always around this part (the middle of Act II) that I contemplate abandoning this piece of shit that has sputtered and stalled towards the end of Act II. Like NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND, I tried dragging it on for a while before admitting to myself that the story isn’t working and that it’s not going to turn out the way I want it to. It’s commonly known as the “dark night of the soul” for writers, where we languish in the pits of inferiority and debilitating self-doubt.

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I came across this article recently, How Writers Mourn Their Dead Novels, which perfectly describes what it’s like to have a dying novel in your hands and it’s up to you to bring it back to life.

You’ve spent years falling in love with an idea, working out its intricacies, populating its contours with characters that become like family. And now, after months building it word by word, you have a thick manuscript, mostly finished, that flops about on the desk like a dying fish. “Save me,” says the fish. “I can’t,” you say.

And then it dies.

I’m standing at that point between the flopping and the dying. And as someone whose manuscripts have survived several near-death moments, here are a few tips I can offer to those who are in the same boat as me right now:

1. Keep Your Eyes on the Finish Line

Some days, it feels like you’re never going to finish the damn story. It feels like it will never be done, and that you’re just crawling your way to the end with a boulder tied to your back.

I know.

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Snoopy knows too.

The only reassurance I have – and am clinging on to – right now is the knowledge that I’ve been through this before. I’ve had to contend with several flopping novels on the brink of death before, and somehow managed to salvage. NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND is something I’m sort of proud of (even though it’s still not perfect), partly because it was a manuscript I had almost abandoned but managed to COMPLETE (at last).

Think about what you first set out to do with this story, think about what you’re trying to say. Think about the magic that first inspired you to write the novel, and forge your way towards realising that magic.

2. Enjoy the Ride

Yes, it’s painful.

The whole process of creating something from scratch is like carving out a piece of your flesh with every word you type.

The first draft is ALWAYS shitty. Because that’s when we’re still figuring out the story as we go along, even though we may have plotted it extensively before diving into it. We can never know for sure EVERYTHING that we want to say until we actually say it. So a lot of what we’re saying the first time round comes out garbled and incoherent.

It’s verbal diarrhea.

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But it’s the process – that journey towards The End – that makes the destination that much more beautiful, after all. Why else would you want to keep doing it, story after story? Knowing how far you’ve come since page one, seeing how different – better – the finished product looks from your first draft, realising that you somehow managed to find your way to the end eventually makes everything worth it – the blood, the sweat, the tears.

3. Work on Something Else

Instead of tearing your hair out and squeezing your brain dry while you agonise over the WIP that is just not working (which NEVER works for me), maybe a distraction might help to get the writing juices flowing again. No, not Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest.

Another WIP.

A Shiny New Idea.

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How those other Shiny New Ideas are calling out to me right now.

I’ve found that it helps for me to work on another story simultaneously, so whenever it’s going terrible for one you can take a break and turn to the other. Sometimes, you just need some distance between you and your WIP to approach it again with fresh eyes. It usually works, at least for me.

The whole idea is to not lose momentum. Keep writing – another WIP, a short story, a poem (if you’re into that – personally, I make a terrible poet) – and you might just find a diamond in the rough.

4. Time for a Change of Scenery

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Benjamin Franklin

Artists are anything but drones. We’re human beings who are constantly seeking new experiences, new scenery to reignite that spark.

Which is why my upcoming Beijing trip is well-timed. Not only is it a change of scenery (all! those! palaces!), it also provides a reprieve from REMEMBER, and I can focus on plotting the Oriental-inspired historical fantasy novel I’ve had brewing in my head ever since I watched Sound of the Desert and read Rebel of the Sands. Shiny New Idea, let me give you some loving!

5. Stay Inspired 

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Image from Hoover’s Corner

How do you write a novel when you’re stuck in your own head? Keep reading new stories, watching new stories, listening to new music, and experiencing new things, and never stop asking what if questions to keep the stories coming!

 

So tl;dr I’m not going to give up on BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU just yet. And if you’re thinking of abandoning your WIP, don’t. Just give it some time and space. It’ll get better. Trust that it will!

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By the way, I’ll be in Beijing for a week, so I won’t have access to conventional social media and texting platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp (*cries*). I can, however, still be found on Skype (joyce.chua259) and Instagram (@thewritesofpassage), where I will spam travel photos!

It’s going to be crazy times, y’all! Stay inspired.

 

Until we meet again,

Joyce xx

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I hate to call it writer’s block, but…

Trying not to be angsty, but lately I’m feeling really trapped. Like I’m going nowhere with my writing, and I can’t seem to get into the proper headspace to work on Neverland. So I keep going back to Blood Promise and Until Morning, tweaking and tinkering in the hopes that something will spring out of that parched, barren wasteland of literary desolation.

… See, that’s what I’m talking about. Literary desolation? It’s like whatever I write comes out looking garbled and over-dramatic and cliched and ugh just altogether trying too hard. It’s just really frustrating when you want something so badly and you keep trying and trying and nothing seems to work. I can understand if it’s just a bad day or two. But what if I can never feel that way about writing again? What else can I do? Came across this little diary entry I scribbled in my notebook not too long ago, and it seems like I’ve been feeling this way for far too long.

Now you know how ugly my handwriting is when I’m upset, hmm. But if that’s too illegible for you, here’s a typeset version: 21 June 2014, 10pm:

I want to give up. It seems like everything I try is useless. But I hate having nothing to show for my efforts, if I give up now. Six years of trying to get published, (of learning whatever I can about the publishing industry), and although I’ve published one book since, the dismal sales is demoralising.

I know people keep saying to press on, to keep at it and one day I’ll make it. But how many writers have died in obscurity, how many have had to give up their dream because the obstacles are too many and too impossible to scale?

All those hours slaving away at a book; all that time spent editing, rewriting, querying; all those hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters. What are they all for? Maybe they are telling me something, one thing: that I’m just not good enough and that I should give up, stop wasting my time. I will never be good enough to join the ranks of the writing superstars – Laini Taylor, Sarah Dessen, Maggie Stiefvater…

I hate that I’m even thinking of giving up, but maybe I have to. But how do you give up something that gives meaning to your life, without giving up on life itself?

I know, I know. I’m being over-dramatic and morose. Kristen Lamb weighed in on writer’s block in her recent blog post:

Creative people are a lot like tigers. We do a lot of what looks like laying around and warming our bellies in the sunshine. Yet, what we’re really doing is powering up because, once we go after that first draft, those words can be more elusive than a gazelle that’s doping.

Regular folks who clock in and clock out of jobs in cubicles are grazers. They do the same routine day after day. *munch, munch, munch*. I feel this is often why creative people feel so stifled in these environments. We’re tigers stuffed in a non-tiger role.

Grazing. That’s exactly what I’m doing. Day in, day out, munch munch munch on sad green grass. I need meat. I need a holiday. Ha! I read somewhere that people listen to sad songs when they’re feeling down in order to seek emotional validation, so here’s me turning to Kodaline for some of that.

Sorry about the whining and wallowing. I’m just in a weird funk right now. I’m not usually this mopey, I promise! Hope your weekend’s going better than mine! :0)

The 7 types of writers

1. The Planner

The Planner outlines and details every chapter, every scene, every line before getting down to writing. Flash cards and Excel sheets are usually involved. It’s pretty hardcore.

 

2. The Pantser

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Panster, as in write by the seat of your pants. I.e. the opposite of the Plotter. Plan? What plan? They make it up as they go along. And somehow, it works for them.

 

3. The After-Hours Writer

Also known as the one responsible for the feverish mutterings in the middle of the night.

 

4. The Researcher

You know that half of what you’ve researched won’t go into the book, but man does it take the pressure off writing the actual thing!

Also, everything counts as research. Including watching videos like this documentary on McBusted:

 

5. The Uninspired

Self-explanatory.

 

6. The Inspired

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Well. Good for you. Exit that way, please.

 

7. The Desperate

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Desperate are those who have spent weeks and months tearing apart everything they write because nothing seems to be good enough.

 

8. The Emotional

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They react to everything they write … or don’t write.

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Guess which one I am now?

 

But I found this quote on Laini Taylor’s blog that is somewhat encouraging:

“One reason people have artist’s block is that they do not respect the law of dormancy in nature. Trees don’t produce fruit all year long constantly. They have a point when they go dormant.

And when you are in a dormant period creatively, if you can arrange your life to do the technical tasks that don’t take creativity, you are essentially preparing for the spring when it will all blossom again.”

~ Marshall Vandruff

 

Leave it to Laini to offer a dose of optimism. I swear, that woman inhales sunshine for breakfast. (Although with that fabulous pink hair, can she be anything but happy?)

 

Hope you’re having a more creative day than me!

head, meet desk

“Writing fiction is not “self- expression” or “therapy”. Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whiz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.”

~ Sarah Waters

“If you want to write a novel, don’t try to stare at it head-on. It is Gorgon: If you meet its gaze it will turn you to stone. Countless wonderful books get not written – a more intransigent state of affairs that not getting written, by far – this way. Instead, I recommend writing a book behind your own back. Frontload as much organization as you can – way more than you think necessary, certainly more than you want to – plan the whole thing out in detail. Characters, setting, story, in deep detail, so you have an overall arc, an outline of at least a short paragraph for each chapter, what’ll happen in it, who’s going to do what in it, and where you need to be by the chapter’s end.”

~ China Mieville


1. Make your main character want something.
2. Make your main character do something.
3. The components of a novel that readers care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, atmosphere/setting.
4. Remember that nobody agrees on what a beautiful prose style is and most readers either can’t recognize “good writing” or don’t value it that much.
5. A sense of humor couldn’t hurt. 

~ Laura Miller

 

*

Things are slow going on the writing front. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what the hell I’m trying to say and how to link the aforementioned incomprehensible stuff with my characters and their damn issues. They just seem to be going in circles – around themselves, around each other – and the story plods on in waterlogged shoes.

Ugh. My brain is all clogged up like a stuffed nose jammed with tissue paper. The words won’t come, and the thoughts cut themselves off halfway through formation. It’s like grasping at the wispy tails of evil, elusive plot unicorns and the misty trails of story ideas.

On days like this, there is pretty much only one thing left to do:

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Sigh.