Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taking the Scenic Route

Stock Photography: Tearing Directory
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I've been wandering aimlessly through the rooms of my house for about a month trying to decide what to do with my manuscript. I wrote a post a few weeks back about how it's been six years and the invalid is still ailing. But yesterday something finally clicked when I read an article by an author who has never let unfinished projects get in the way of his progress as a writer. Here's what Marcus Brotherton  shared about his personal experience with ailing manuscripts:

Here’s my story.
In 2003 I wrote my first novel, Life With Baby. A New York agent repped it. It didn’t sell.
One down.
In 2005 I wrote Unstuck. Editors liked the dialogue and pacing but called the plot “unfixable.”
Two down.
In 2007 I wrote the first five chapters of GodBrawl. Everybody hated it.
Two and a half down.
In 2008-2011, after reading McKee’s Story, Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, Snyder’s Save the Cat, and 12 other novel-writing technique books, I wrote a military thriller called All Home Alive.
Early readers loved it. My agent deemed it commercially viable. We submitted it to Penguin, my regular nonfiction publisher, who liked the writing, but not the subject. I sent it to an outside editor, the Simon Cowell of publishing, for an unbiased opinion. “If your lifeguard duties were as good as this book,” he said, “a lot of people would drown.”
Three down.
People say never give up. Submit your manuscript to 80 publishers and keep going until one bites. Actually, I’ve tried that. Here’s a wintery truth of this industry: persistence with submissions doesn’t always pay off.

I wish I could keep a few people chained in my basement for the express purpose of cheering me up. Besides your standard Oscar Wilde and Bill Murray types, I wouldn't mind adding a Marcus Brotherton or two. I imagine going downstairs on the hard days and saying, Okay, say something witty about all of your terrible manuscripts that have bombed!

While a linear approach to life may feel comfortable, I'm wondering if maybe it isn't the most effective teacher. We can plan all we want to have a baby every two years, but sometimes we end up with twins or two in twenty months. We can decide to graduate from college before getting married, but sometimes handsome business majors happen. We work single-mindedly toward goals, even for years and years, only to realize that we have something bigger and better buried deep inside. Being an accomplished one trick pony might be the very thing dragging on our wings. There are other houses, jobs, manuscripts, and adventures to be had. I think all of us feel like we jumped off the main road and went bush whacking in one area of our life or another. But you know as well as I do that there is something to be said for taking the scenic route.

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