Thursday, 26 May 2011

When it's time to let go

Yesterday I posted on my other blog a relatively upbeat piece about how I'm now intending to write a completely new novel instead of working on the sequel to the ms I recently completed.

This is a sound and exciting course of action; but, as some readers of this blog may suspect, there is more to the story behind my decision to leave a cast of characters who I've been hanging out with for . . . oh, around 10 years. Probably longer, if I'm brutally honest.

And this is going to be a brutally honest post, more so than that other, which -- while every word of it is true -- is a rather carefully crafted piece of spin. Indeed, my 10 years in PR have not gone to waste. (Although I think Hayley saw through it!) But I'm going to tell the whole story here on my 'secret' blog, because many of you readers have travelled with me some distance along this journey and I want you to know what is really going down.

The truth of it is that I have been receiving feedback on that first ms (the one I've been slaving over for years) over the past month or so. Some of my readers have really liked it, which is always wonderful to hear and does my confidence a world of good. Others, however, have pointed out some major flaws that are rather difficult to fix. Most of my readers seem to agree that the characters, world-building/setting, narrative (writing), structure are generally solid. The major sticking point is that the story sucks.

Well, OK, 'sucks' might be a bit strong, but the main point is that what actually happens is not compelling enough to stand out from the crowd. It holds together as a novel, but it's probably not going to rock your socks off -- or attract the eye of a publisher.

Deep down I have probably always known this, but I kept telling myself that I could fix it. It's amazing how blinkered you can get when immersed in something you're passionate about. How blind. The signs have been there for years: the number of times I have refused to tell anyone what the story was about 'because it sounds silly'. DOH DOH DOH

Thus am I unveiled as a complete idiot.

I have never known the right time to give up on anything. (Mind you, I'd be two uni degrees down if I was otherwise.) The time to give up on this one was probably about four years ago, before embarking on this latest rewrite that has itself taken far far too long.

So my first ms is broken and it's probably time to let it go. I'm not abandoning it completely, but it's going on ice for the moment. Perhaps one day I will come back and cannibalise some of the good parts and write a better story. But it is likely to be a different story to the one that captured my foolish attention so long ago.

And the thing to remember is that this is perfectly normal. As I said in the other post, statistically, first novels never make it. But of course you always hope that yours will be the exception and that's what keeps you going. I don't regret spending time on that novel because it has enabled me to refine many of my writing skills; I have always considered it my apprenticeship piece. Perhaps I do regret spending so many years getting to this point, but, well, there's absolutely nothing I can do about that now so the only direction to head is onward.

Yes, the past week has been incredibly tough. There have been many tears and much much doubt. I have consoled myself with chocolate, wine and coffee (and the knowledge that at least some people liked it!) . . . And of course I've been wondering whether maybe I should just get another proper job and give the whole idea of writing fiction away.

But it's not the first time I've felt like I'll never make it, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Dealing with rejection and failure is part of the territory of being a writer. God knows why we put ourselves through it, but we do, and we pick ourselves up and keep turning up for more. In any case, I am actually feeling positive about my new proposed novel. Already I'm confident that at heart it's a much better story. I just hope that I can do it justice!


  1. Hey ... you're awesome! This is seriously "being realistic". Which is really really hard to do. But if you can be realistic, then you can really learn some lessons. Good luck with it all!

  2. If that's the decision you've come to then I'm sorry for the pain involved in making it, and happy that you're looking to what comes next. For the record, though, I believe it's a saleable ms, and the only proof either way would be to write a rockin' synopsis and shop it around. That's the only way to really tell. Oh, and you are only 'an idiot' for feeling this constant need to be so very, very hard on youself!

  3. Thanks, guys.

    You never know, I may reconsider in a little while when I'm feeling less gutted. But there'll always be the doubt. I want my first published novel to rock!

    But yes, I could still shop it around and see what the feedback is . . . As you say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  4. elmo's mum.Friday, 27 May, 2011

    i'm de-lurking to say, wow. that sucks.

    you've been developing your characters and world for all the years i've known you.
    at heart you know they're rich, intricate & interesting.
    stories can be changed.
    the medium can also be changed.
    is it possible the story would work better as a screenplay?

    ... ok.
    i've just read your other post.
    clever girl.
    use what's good, ditch what you feel is not working.
    (and i stress, "you feel" - other people's opinions are just that.)

    putting all that aside, i'm deeply sorry you've had the sort of week you've had.
    i can't begin to imagine the pain.
    however, there is something i wanted to throw out into the universe.
    no matter what you write, no matter how wonderful you think it is, you will always find someone who will not like it.
    there are people who don't like orlando or dr zhivago, let alone share my view that they are examples, at least in sections, of literature as art.
    (i know because i've met them.)
    but that doesn't mean that those books should not have been published.

    finally, you're young, healthy, strong, determined, hard working and talented.
    and at core, a writer.
    and writer's write.
    and tomorrow's a new day.

    hugs. coffee. soonest.

  5. One thing I have always admired about you is your persistence - through thick and thin. That is why I was so confused by your other blog post. But now I know the back story, it seems like the right move. Sounds like it was an inordinately difficult decision, but at the same time, you should take heart that there were many positives to your first manuscript. Looking forward to hearing/reading about the developments of the new MS!

  6. Thanks once again for the support.

  7. What for you no call me? Me, who is down the road and around the corner? I would have left work and all! I could have made you coffee and passed you tears as you wailed. Who said such mean things? Your ms is as readable and I would think as sellable as any australian writer currently in print. I don't know what they think is missing? I am going to have a think and come up with the plot lines of current books out there. Believe me, almost none of them are spine tinglingly compelling but that doesn't mean they are un-readable or un-publishable, does it? I am also going to think of first books and what their plots were. I don't think it's the first book by any writer that should be counted on "to rock", I think it's the first book that any reader happens to read by a particular writer and the impression that makes that matters. And first books can be red herrings or stand alone tragedies. Get it?
    I agree with Elmo's mum, stories can be changed and maybe even the mediums via which they are told. I think you are WAAAY to hard on yourself. As for getting a real job, I am always reading about finding that thing that you love to do 'cause then it just wouldn't be a job but a passion and anyone who has sat with you and discussed writing and authors can not have failed to notice your passion. You are an excellent writer, Ellen, whereas I suspect I am a story teller. You care for the craft of it much more than me. Oh, and Elmo's mum, you've met orlando and dr zhivago, really???Cool.

  8. Your book is 100% saveable (and you know I think it is already publishable), but maybe don't attempt it until you have written the novel you have just started. Then I think you will find you don't even have to fix a thing in the first half... But that's not why I'm commenting.

    Reading Lamellae's blog link to the money that can be made from writing, I have finally conceded that unless you want to live poor, you need another job, even if you are a successful writer (in Australia particularly).

    My focus in recent months has been to find a job that I can do which is part time. That way you can earn money to live off, and give yourself the time to write. This also frees you up to write what you want, not just what you can sell, which ultimately is what all of us are aiming for anyway.

    You will come out on the other side of this stronger, and you will get published. It is just a matter of time, I honestly believe that!