When to Rewrite an Old Manuscript

It's such a difficult thing to tear apart and put back together a manuscript you love, but when should you do it? The choice is so incredibly personal, and it depends on the project, what new ideas are brewing, and where your heart lies, but this is how I finally decided to take the plunge:

When you're querying a manuscript, it's normal to continually modify a manuscript. A manuscript an agent has requested from me is always likely to have a number of changes since the version they received months ago. I know I've never had that feeling like a manuscript is perfect, complete or living up to its fullest potential. Even after editor notes, critique partner suggestions, etc. it's still a living, breathing work that will constantly evolve. My goal is always to make it as good as it can be, so frequent revisions are a necessary part of the process, and I don't know if I'll ever get to the point when I think it can be left alone.

I queried a manuscript I love for one year. I sent out probably one hundred queries. I entered a contest against thousands of other manuscripts (Pitch to Publication) and was in the small grouping of about 20+ manuscripts that got to work with a freelance editor to improve it. Then in rolled the requests from agents. This was exciting because my previously queried manuscript had only receive one or two agent requests so I knew I had something special and my odds were greatly improved that this time would be it. This would be the time I found an agent to sell my book. Slowly, I watched most of my writing friends get agented and I thought, "Surely my turn is coming." But it didn't.

I received some of the nicest rejections. Here's a small sampling:

  • "You write well—I enjoyed reading this, and made sure several others in the office had a chance to take a look"

  • "Overall, your writing is lovely. You truly have talent and I saw your craft ability immediately. All the fundamentals a writer needs is well represented in FAST AWAKE. I have no doubt you are going to shine in this career path."

This one was after a R&R:

  • "I have to say that I really struggled with your story because I LOVE your voice and really like this story. However, even with the changes there is still a heavy dark presence."

There were more, but you get the idea. Some agents even said they felt some other agent would snap it right up.

But that didn't happen after 100 queries and slowly even the requests sort of piddled out. I couldn't take it anymore. This was my baby (as most of our manuscripts are to us writers.) I could let go of my last manuscript and definitely my very first manuscript which was so bad I never even bothered querying it. But in this particular manuscript, I loved the romance, the juxtaposition of dark and light, the psychological elements, the theme of self-forgiveness. But it wasn't going anywhere. So I put it away.

I spent the next year working on two new manuscripts, one, a thriller I lost the majority of when both my computer and external crashed. I wondered if that was a sign to quit. It felt like being kicked when down. But when you're a writer you keep going because you can't picture yourself without writing. I had another idea for a magical realism manuscript and chose to finish writing that one first, before tackling the thriller again. I've started querying it (only eleven queries so far) and I'm constantly making changes to it to try and make it better. Still, that last manuscript won't let go of me.

I figured if I love it that much it's worth reworking. It's worth it to ditch some of the dark elements and make it lighter. I still love the dark mixed with the more inspirational elements but if it's not going to get picked up because of those elements, they're worth letting go to save my story. The story matters more than my personal preferences. The problem is I didn't know how to save the themes and structure without those elements. Then, less than a week ago I got an idea. I figured out a way I could remove them and replace them with another idea. Maybe it'll make the manuscript too boring or ruin the pacing. Maybe it'll amount to nothing but I have to at least try a rewrite. It'll change the query completely which will open it up to requerying and submitting to different agents than before. Anyhow, that gives me a smidgen of hope so I don't have to put it away forever, because it seems I can't. Some stories are apart of us and stick with us forever.


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