Sunday, July 1, 2012

Extreme Makeover: MS Edition

Write now/Right now is an interesting time. My Taste Test MS has been accepted by my editor and it's off to copy editing. I've talked to my agent a few times in the last few weeks about what our next move should be. First, we need to provide an option for my publisher to buy b/c, well, we have to contractually. But, I would want to even if we didn't. My editor was phenomenal and I'd love to continue working with her.

Looking for my next book has allowed me to come back to my first book, the book that got me writing YA in the first place. This book is many things to me -- a labor of love, sure. But it's also the land of opportunity. It's the book that garnered agent interest. The book that got me an agent. The book that defined this new writing life. It just didn't sell.

So, I broke it out and started reading it. And it was pretty bad. Not bad like unreadable. At it's core, it's still a good premise. But there were a lot of errors. It didn't capture the vernacular of a teenager. It just wasn't right. When I opened the document, I thought it would be to do some clean-up. Instead of Merry Maids, I became Ty Pennington.

But after I started to re-read, I realized that it really was fixable. It just needed a little buffing. Sometimes when we learn how to do something well, we look back at previous work and think it's not good enough to be revisited. But I want to encourage you -- if you have a MS that you love, but never sold or never read to another person, if you have a MS that didn't see the light of day...well, don't make it sit in a dark drawer forever. Consider bringing it back out, dusting it off and giving it a good polish. Just because a book didn't sell doesn't mean hope is lost. If you've got the motivation, why not give it another shot? If nothing else, it'll be better the next time you get it out again.

So where to begin?

Well, everyone is different in how they revise old work. But here is how I go about things --

1. Read the whole thing.

I'd love to tell you that I do a full read through before I make changes, but I don't. I jump right in there and start fixing things I find. If I had to read it without making those changes, I'd go batty -- and I'd forget all the things I want to fix. But you need to read the whole thing, even if you get to a part that you feel is unfixable.

2. Read it like a book.

If it's been long enough that if feels like you're reading something that isn't your own writing, that's pretty good. It's been about 18 months since I've looked at this old MS and, while I remember writing it, there are lots of surprises I've forgotten about. It's actually really exciting to do this. I can sort of pretend that it's a book-book (esp. since I put it on the iPad, which lets me read it the same way I read my iBooks.)

3. Cut yourself some slack.

Chances are, since writing experience is cumulative, you are a better writer now than you were when you wrote your old MS. When you read it, don't panic that it's destined for the recycle bin. Give yourself a chance to read it. Really read it. Change it, work on it, do what you will. Make it what you want it to be. And if you still can't manage to make it "right," then put it back in the drawer for another time.

4. Stay in it for the long haul.

Seriously. If you've been in the writing game for longer than a minute, you've learned that this is a slow business. Your book won't combust when you put it away - if you feel overwhelmed trying to fix it now, maybe it isn't the right time. Maybe it needs more work. My agent told me a story the other day about the painter, Rembrandt. Apparently, he used to sneak into galleries and work on his paintings while they were hung on display. And isn't that they way it goes? Michael Waters, a professor of mine, once told me that poems aren't finished, they're abandoned. I feel that way about all writing. But the good news is you can always come back as long as the work is still in your hands.

Do you have something you've put away that you'd like to come back to? Or any advice for me as I complete my MS makeover?

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