Saturday, 26 August 2017

KILLING YOUR DARLINGS by Eloise Williams

Killing your darlings...

                                   …or your entire manuscript?

I recently had an email from a writer who I very much admire telling me that she had thrown aside a book she had been working on for too long and started a new one. My stomach went into spasms of disbelief. There is, in my opinion, nothing this woman could write that wouldn’t be superb. How could she throw away a story? Why would I never get to read it? WHY? WHY???!!!!

And then this horror happened…

I remembered an entire manuscript that I had worked on for over six years and then thrown out as rubbish in a sealed and heavily tied metaphorical bin-bag. Somehow, escapologist that it is, the story released itself from said metaphorical bag and knocked on the door of my brain. 

‘Hiya,’ it whispered. ‘You thought I was dead, didn’t you? Well, guess what? I’m still very much alive and I have a feeling that if you spend just maybe another six days… months… years on me I will be the BEST BOOK THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN. Or at least passable.’ (Cue evil laugh.)


And there it is, ticking away at the back of my mind again. I run through the plethora of wonderful fictional works I’ve read and it is in no way as good as those… but then I’ve also read a few disasters in my time too and it’s not that bad, is it? IS IT??!! 

By the way – it is!The characters had been yoga-d into positions that are in no way credible. The situations have been manipulated to the point of snapping. The plot has holes that could be used to strain pasta if they weren’t so big that the pasta might fall straight through. 

And here I am again, the Adrian Mole of my own work, marking my submission to the BBC as Urgent. Thinking again of writing the fictional equivalent of the Father Ted Eurovision entry ‘My Lovely Horse’. Ready and willing to squander even more of my life on that last dying breath of a hollow and pointless manuscript. 

How do I stop myself from taking this route? There is no map to show me the way out. I have no-one to ask for advice other than my husband who would no doubt tell me that my writing is brilliant whilst plugging in his headphones and painting open eyes on the lenses of his spectacles. 

 Usually I end my blog pieces with some vague stab at wisdom but not this time I’m afraid.


I don’t know what to do. 

I don’t know how to stop myself from wasting another six years working on a story that has flatlined.

I need advice and I need it ever so quickly.

Maybe before I begin to type…?
By Eloise Williams

5 comments:

Becca McCallum said...

Have a symbolic burning of all your notes for it. Find a lonely beach, gather some driftwood, make a bonfire and then place notes on fire with all due ceremony, then dance around fire, drink whisky/tea/hot cocoa, watch the dying embers fade and return home to work on new project...

Anne Booth said...

I completely sympathise as I'm in a v similar position re an adult novel I wrote & submitted as part of an MA in 2005. It was edited by different people after the MA finished and in the end, because I kept anxiously changing it in response to different people's comments, all the life went out of it and it doesn't work. However, I still love and think about the characters, so I am thinking of starting again from scratch - not working on the original manuscript but writing a synopsis based on my memory of the original story, maybe adding some new dimensions - strengthening the sense of place, changing the time period, writing some character sketches and just starting from the beginning again keeping my own voice. I don't know if I will regret it - but I do feel the characters deserve another go and I feel more confident as a writer now. So I am keeping away from the dead, heavily edited and rater mannered and self conscious literary style of the original, getting a new notebook and having another go! I don't know what the best thing is for you - if the story itself, rather than the manuscript haunts you, why not focus on that and start again like me? If it is only that you have a manuscript but you don't actually like it, and you just feel guilty, Becca's advice sounds good - and put your energy into something new which (that? sorry about grammar wobble) entices and enthuses you. Good luck!

Sue Purkiss said...

'My Lovely Horse' - an inspiration to us all...

Stroppy Author said...

Decide you are never going to try to publish it. If you still want to pick away at it, it's because you like doing it and that's no more shameful than a liking for gardening or watching movies. So then you can do it, but just don't count it as work time. I have one I gave up on a year ago after about four years' part-time work. It's quite liberating. Think of it as a relationship. Do you want to stay married to this MS? If you do, it's worth working at it. If you don't, you can either stay friends or you can cut its trousers to shreds. Whichever feels right :-)

David Thorpe said...

I've done the same thing - more than once. It's hard. You've been carrying the damn thing around for so long. You've chiselled at it every which way. You've tried to react pleasingly to all the contradictory feedback. And it still won't fire up. It becomes a curse, like being stalked. Cut it off. Don't answer the calls. Bury it in a tin case in the garden. Let that be a lesson to you. But what lesson. How do I know the next idea won't also be a fateful mismatch?