So, for the last few months I’ve been working on (and off, mostly) a new manuscript. I wrote most of it in one manic burst during a sleepless fortnight or so in February; since then I’ve been mucking about with it, tinkering, changing, adding little, debating the ending/the whole format, getting nowhere fast; a couple of weeks ago I went through it and changed the tense of the entire bloody thing.
I emailed my agent in the first wave of excitement saying that I’d send it over to her soon. Then many emails followed saying ‘it’s not ready yet/I’m not actually sure about this/I think it might be the most boring book in the world’. Reading them back now, they become progressively more disheartened every time.
Today I decided to stop working on it and do something else. Maybe for good. Maybe I’ll come back to it; I think probably not. I’ve spent today working on a new project instead and made more progress than I have in the past three months.
I’m actually excited about this decision. It’s like dumping a useless but really pretty boyfriend. This manuscript had some personal stuff in and also a genius title, so I stuck with it for probably longer than I should have. (I shan’t tell you the title because odds are good that I will shoehorn it into something else just so that I can use it at some point.)
I’ve abandoned ideas before. Sometimes after months and years of working on them; sometimes when they haven’t really made it off the ground at all. I generally feel good about this, rather than the opposite – that’s what having loads of ideas is all about, which is after all our job. There was a whole historical novel that ended up being scrapped. A convoluted thriller that would have barely filled a short story in the end. One that made me sad because I loved it dearly but I just couldn’t make it work – but that was a few years ago now and I am thinking of rewriting it as a teen novel.
I have learned in the last few years that strong ideas are probably more important than atmosphere and pretty phrases – something that I have had to learn the hard way because this way of working does not come naturally to me. I have honestly written entire full-length manuscripts inspired by the feeling a particular song gives me, the name of a perfume, or the peculiar melancholy of one foreign hotel room – and they haven’t contained much more meat than that in the end.
The best ideas are the ones that leap out and aren’t held back by their beautiful frailty, the ones that you just can’t get rid of – rather than the ones you desperately want to keep like water cupped in your hands.
This one may go to the graveyard with the others, while I try to figure out at least something I’ve learned from the whole thing. And, most of all, start the next one.