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Reality Check ‘Kill the occasional darlings? - Kill your entire baby, Darling!’ - Musings about moving on.

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Barbara

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We are all familiar with the phrase ‘kill your darlings’ and most of us are quite expert at doing just that.

But what if we need to kill the entire infant novel; that one novel that means so much to us? After all, that novel is everything, right?

‘Oh, Barbara, for goodness sake, will you just stop obsessing about publishing this sodding novel. It’s not happening. Just let it go.’ The right side of my brain sighs. She always thinks she knows best.

‘Yes, yes, I know, I know, but not now.' The left side usualy feels misunderstood. 'There’re still plenty of agents I haven’t sent it to. After that, there are the various publishing houses, and a comp or two. I can’t give up. Not yet.’

‘OK, then when?’

‘After I’ve fixed the first page and the letter and the blurb and the summary. I’m sure if I get it just right, I can have one more go at it, and I’m getting tons of feedback to help me get it just right, and ... Seventy rejections aren’t that much.’

‘Seventy rejections?! Holy cow.’


And the conversation begins again.

Sounds a bit like an addiction? An obsession? Most likely. It’s easy to become fixated.

Admitting our baby isn’t for this publishing world can be difficult. We birthed it. We’ve nurtured and fed it. We’ve joyfully played with it. We’ve changed its nappies and threw out the sh*t that made it stink. We’ve even bored our friends with that one special line which our baby uttered, a line so wonderful, it made us howl with laughter (the friends never cracked a smile). Our baby grew up with our TLC. Then we made it stand on its own feet and nudged it to walk towards publication. We prodded it, pushed it forwards, sent it out across the world and …

… it fell flat on its face. Smack.

‘Oh, never mind. It’s just the first steps. Here, have better shoes. Now off you go again. Run, my Darling, run!’

Repeat above conversation.

At what point do we admit that our baby has no legs for this publishing world? How long do we keep pushing before we say: ‘OK, this particular child will never walk’? Do we let it hinder our career forever? Should we fix it to death? Nope.

No publishing deal doesn’t mean failure, and it isn’t necessarily about talent. It generally means: Not this novel at this time.

For me, it took 70 rejections. Uh-oh. Hint hint. And then, along came the pop ups and Agent Pete kindly told me to put it aside. Thank you. And I’m glad he did. I’m glad I listened because as much as I enjoyed writing this particular novel about a quirky old lady, moving on to a new project is proving to be more intellectually and creatively challenging (read: it's a bleeping headache), more fulfilling (read: no time for anything else), more exhilarating (I'm about to run through the Fens, screaming), and dare I say that this baby will hopefully be better.

So, how do we let go?

I very much believe that letting go isn’t the same as defeat. Dumping a novel isn’t the end of our writing career. (One book isn’t much of a career, now is it.) It is the beginning. It means we are freeing ourselves up to move on to the next stage in the life of a writer (in other words: a body of work), and our work will become healthier and richer for it.

I still have that old lady novel. It isn’t lost. She’s there, and always will be. Just for me.

Maybe we need to see our writing as a collection of work; a process, as opposed to that one novel that will get us to where we want to be, meaning the above conversation would go something like this:

‘Well, Barbara, you’ve given it a good old shot, but this novel just isn’t going to find a buyer.’

‘Why not? I’m sure it’s good ... Or … isn’t it?’

‘Who knows. Move on. Take what you’ve learnt from it and write the next. You never know, it might be a bestseller.’

‘Actually, I’ve had this idea for a story. There’s this guy who is a compulsive gambler, called Nick, and ...’


If we want to fly high, our wings need to be free of old rust. (Just made that up. Ought to hang it on fridge.)

So take off your old wings, attach a pair of shiny, new ones, and soar to the sky and fly.

How will you / do you let go of your rust?
 

E G Logan

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We are all familiar with the phrase ‘kill your darlings’ and most of us are quite expert at doing just that.

But what if we need to kill the entire infant novel; that one novel that means so much to us? After all, that novel is everything, right?

‘Oh, Barbara, for goodness sake, will you just stop obsessing about publishing this sodding novel. It’s not happening. Just let it go.’ The right side of my brain sighs. She always thinks she knows best.

‘Yes, yes, I know, I know, but not now.' The left side usualy feels misunderstood. 'There’re still plenty of agents I haven’t sent it to. After that, there are the various publishing houses, and a comp or two. I can’t give up. Not yet.’

‘OK, then when?’

‘After I’ve fixed the first page and the letter and the blurb and the summary. I’m sure if I get it just right, I can have one more go at it, and I’m getting tons of feedback to help me get it just right, and ... Seventy rejections aren’t that much.’

‘Seventy rejections?! Holy cow.’


And the conversation begins again.

Sounds a bit like an addiction? An obsession? Most likely. It’s easy to become fixated.

Admitting our baby isn’t for this publishing world can be difficult. We birthed it. We’ve nurtured and fed it. We’ve joyfully played with it. We’ve changed its nappies and threw out the sh*t that made it stink. We’ve even bored our friends with that one special line which our baby uttered, a line so wonderful, it made us howl with laughter (the friends never cracked a smile). Our baby grew up with our TLC. Then we made it stand on its own feet and nudged it to walk towards publication. We prodded it, pushed it forwards, sent it out across the world and …

… it fell flat on its face. Smack.

‘Oh, never mind. It’s just the first steps. Here, have better shoes. Now off you go again. Run, my Darling, run!’

Repeat above conversation.

At what point do we admit that our baby has no legs for this publishing world? How long do we keep pushing before we say: ‘OK, this particular child will never walk’? Do we let it hinder our career forever? Should we fix it to death? Nope.

No publishing deal doesn’t mean failure, and it isn’t necessarily about talent. It generally means: Not this novel at this time.

For me, it took 70 rejections. Uh-oh. Hint hint. And then, along came the pop ups and Agent Pete kindly told me to put it aside. Thank you. And I’m glad he did. I’m glad I listened because as much as I enjoyed writing this particular novel about a quirky old lady, moving on to a new project is proving to be more intellectually and creatively challenging (read: it's a bleeping headache), more fulfilling (read: no time for anything else), more exhilarating (I'm about to run through the Fens, screaming), and dare I say that this baby will hopefully be better.

So, how do we let go?

I very much believe that letting go isn’t the same as defeat. Dumping a novel isn’t the end of our writing career. (One book isn’t much of a career, now is it.) It is the beginning. It means we are freeing ourselves up to move on to the next stage in the life of a writer (in other words: a body of work), and our work will become healthier and richer for it.

I still have that old lady novel. It isn’t lost. She’s there, and always will be. Just for me.

Maybe we need to see our writing as a collection of work; a process, as opposed to that one novel that will get us to where we want to be, meaning the above conversation would go something like this:

‘Well, Barbara, you’ve given it a good old shot, but this novel just isn’t going to find a buyer.’

‘Why not? I’m sure it’s good ... Or … isn’t it?’

‘Who knows. Move on. Take what you’ve learnt from it and write the next. You never know, it might be a bestseller.’

‘Actually, I’ve had this idea for a story. There’s this guy who is a compulsive gambler and ...’


If we want to fly high, our wings need to be free of old rust. (Just made that up. Ought to hang it on fridge.)

So take off your old wings, attach a pair of shiny, new ones, and soar to the sky and fly.

How will you / do you let go of your rust?

I know exactly what you mean. I feel for you. Not so much been there as am there, right now, stiffening my resolve. This book, in this form, doesn't work.
I suggest that last sentence can make a companion embroidered cushion to your If we want to fly high, our wings need to be free of old rust. (Sadly I write quicker than I sew.)
 

Andrew Okey

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Grim fact: statistically speaking, everything we write is doomed, all of the time (I've been in Litopia for 18 months and when did I ever see a "fanfare" post where someone got a novel published? Never, I think).

But I guess one consolation you could offer yourself is that if some later novel gets published then this first, apparently lifeless, baby will get sucked up in the up-draft and published thereafter: I'm consistently struck by how someone who has become a 'name' can get books published (obscure themes, daringly odd narrative structures etc etc) which would simply not have been accepted for publication had they been from a first-timer.

Cling on to that - because none of us can actually accept our babies are dead, right? Weirdly, as a I reflect on my one finished novel (38 rejections and counting) I'm most struck by the spectacular dissonance between the industry reaction (two positive rejections, one m/s request) as set against the reaction of the 36 people who've read it and loved it (my book is definitely aimed at middle-aged readers of middle-brow literature, so I picked my 36 quite carefully, though actually a couple of them are also published novelists, so....). So, for all the inevitably mixed those messages, there are still enough positive responses out there for me to keep hoping.

The weirdest bit, though, (and I'd really love to know if others feel the same) is - whilst I'm depressed and mired in self-pity I think I can cope with that. What really troubles me is the fate of the most interesting characters I created - I just think they deserve better than for their careers to be over before they even started, dead before they hit the printer.

OK, enough incoherent rambling. My advice in a nutshell - move on, but never let go!
 

E G Logan

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Grim fact: statistically speaking, everything we write is doomed, all of the time (I've been in Litopia for 18 months and when did I ever see a "fanfare" post where someone got a novel published? Never, I think).

But I guess one consolation you could offer yourself is that if some later novel gets published then this first, apparently lifeless, baby will get sucked up in the up-draft and published thereafter: I'm consistently struck by how someone who has become a 'name' can get books published (obscure themes, daringly odd narrative structures etc etc) which would simply not have been accepted for publication had they been from a first-timer.

Cling on to that - because none of us can actually accept our babies are dead, right? Weirdly, as a I reflect on my one finished novel (38 rejections and counting) I'm most struck by the spectacular dissonance between the industry reaction (two positive rejections, one m/s request) as set against the reaction of the 36 people who've read it and loved it (my book is definitely aimed at middle-aged readers of middle-brow literature, so I picked my 36 quite carefully, though actually a couple of them are also published novelists, so....). So, for all the inevitably mixed those messages, there are still enough positive responses out there for me to keep hoping.

The weirdest bit, though, (and I'd really love to know if others feel the same) is - whilst I'm depressed and mired in self-pity I think I can cope with that. What really troubles me is the fate of the most interesting characters I created - I just think they deserve better than for their careers to be over before they even started, dead before they hit the printer.

OK, enough incoherent rambling. My advice in a nutshell - move on, but never let go!
I agree entirely with your 2nd para, something I'd often thought myself. Maybe I need to bash on with WIP (unrelated novel 2) and make it So Great, then try to stick some unsuspecting agent and/or publisher with novel 1! But realistically, only at the point where it's had a massive makeover, with lots of darling demise...
 

Katie-Ellen

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@Madz got a novel published, big time and now has a second one out. @Leonora is getting ready to sign with an agent. Various short fiction has been published by @Marc Joan and full length YA by @AliG, and no fanfare from her, and others.

There have been a few fanfares in the past 18 months. Not many, but a few very happy green shoots, and who knows what next?

I have wrestled with this one myself. Folk urging me to just go ahead and self publish with a particular finished project, get the thing done and move on.

Why don't I want to? Well, I may, but final editing demands collaboration, and I'd rather it was done with someone active in the business who believed in the book sufficiently to take a risk with it. As a matter of trust in them I suppose.

I had already scrapped the whole thing once, complete 120 k and more, and started over. Because it needed it. And the more you write the more you see earlier clumsiness of execution, so nothing is wasted. And meanwhile you get other bits and pieces published and it is all grist to the mill. Not of credits or plaudits, and no fanfares, but someone publishes them, and it's building boldness of voice and confidence of craftsmanship.

I'd agree, give yourself a break and start something new.

But I'll also say something that people might not like, speaking purely as a reader. I feel that the greatest writers tend to write one great, standout book. Even if they publish ten. One stands head and shoulders over the rest. One book that is of a stature in which one recognises some touchstone of greatness. The rest is paler, thinner. The rest is business.

One is all it needs.

Wuthering Heights for a very well known instance. She died too young, she published only the one. How could it be bettered or even matched?

To Kill A Mockingbird. And the editor there was crucial, just as with The Lord of The Flies.

Filmic. Every one.
These days it needs to be at least potentially filmic.

Your best might prove to be the shelved one, if it was the one you wrote because you wanted to. More than that, you needed to.

But it might not be the one that gets you published.
 
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Barbara

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Like @Barbara I also have a novel about an old lady in my drawer.
Old lady. Drawer. I found my old lady novel in a forgotten folder on my comp this morning, and it got me thinking about the philosophy of moving on from our work; hence my thread today. I haven't looked at it for way over a year, so when it turned up, I thought: Oh, yes, I wrote that. Then I realised how much my writing has changed.

Back to my current WIP. Half way and growing. Yay.

Fanfare to Madz, Marc J, and Leonora.
 

Katie-Ellen

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Signed last Friday! And now embarked on the rewrites needed to make it ready to pitch to publishers. I'm mostly too shy for fanfares, but will say it again if it cheers anyone up.
Like @Barbara I also have a novel about an old lady in my drawer. Maybe they should get together. Magic might happen.

You've got your homework cut out, but please do tell us all more about your experience of that agent's rewriting process when you can find time @Leonora
 

Lex Black

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At any given moment I am one impulse away from gathering up my entire body of work (a LOT of dusty old notebooks, journals, printouts and jump drive backups) and setting them on fire, so I'm kind of on the opposite end of this spectrum. I'm essentially a cross of Hemmingway ("The first draft of anything is sh[BLEEP]t") and Jason Voorhees, and...

and...

...

Pardon me, I need to take some notes.
 

E G Logan

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At any given moment I am one impulse away from gathering up my entire body of work (a LOT of dusty old notebooks, journals, printouts and jump drive backups) and setting them on fire, so I'm kind of on the opposite end of this spectrum. I'm essentially a cross of Hemmingway ("The first draft of anything is sh[BLEEP]t") and Jason Voorhees, and...

and...

...

Pardon me, I need to take some notes.

Please don't do anything rash. Deleted is probably deleted for good.
 

HayleyG

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I had an idea for a novel that just had to be written. Wrote it over 18 months. Then realised although the idea was great, the approach was completely wrong. So i essentially wrote a new novel with the same idea, but 1st person with 2 characters as opposed to 3rd person with multiple characters. It's now a good novel (I think). Have had approx 40 rejections but 1 r&r ( have resubmitted and am waiting to hear back). But am now super excited about my next WIP. It's all a journey and it's great to look back and see how much I've grown as a writer.
 

Carol Rose

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I get what @Barbara is saying, though. :)

My own experience...

Cheri's Crossing, which eventually was published as His Majesty's Secret, was the first true novel I ever worked on. I started it in 1992. Didn't know shit about the craft. I only knew I had to write this story in my head.

I worked on it off and on while I raised my daughter and worked my ass off in ICUs (I'm a registered nurse). Came back to it for real in 2000 and sent it out to agents in 2001. Racked up something insane like 235 rejections and finally joined RWA (Romance Writers of America) and began to find resources online to you know... actually learn the craft. :)

Life got in the way again, but I never gave up on that puppy. Joined Litopia in 2010 and posted the first chapter of the revised, revised, revised, revised (you get the picture) novel in what was then a separate forum for critique. There were a couple of romance/women's fiction writers here then who gave the most excellent and encouraging critique.

Worked on it AGAIN. Sent it out AGAIN. This time, I got a couple of requests for fulls and partials, but no offers.

Met someone on Litopia who wrote for and edited for Evernight. She was a moderator on here and had a contest for fun (and to discover possible talent for Evernight, which was brand new at the time), and she adored my short story.

That short story became The Last Soul, which was expanded, turned into a romance novel (it was originally an erotic horror short story!), and it was my first published novel by Evernight in 2011. I eventually went back to Cheri's Crossing and revised it yet again, and that was my first novel published by Siren-BookStrand in 2012. It was called His Majesty's Secret.

So...

Yes, there are times when it's necessary to walk away from a novel, but that does not always mean you will never return to it. The differences between my first attempts at writing that same book and the finished, published product are virtually unrecognizable as the same story, with the exception of a few basic points. I used those years (20 of them!!) to LEARN MY CRAFT.

So I would add to @Barbara's post how important it is to work on your craft when you put a book aside. You will likely be able to return to it later with a new perspective. A better perspective. A fresh take on it.
 

ghuffman

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I think about this often, especially for 2019, because I'm going to start the querying process. If there's no interest, I believe I'm going to hire a freelance editor, get content feedback, revise, and publish it. Go on to the next. There's risk in that. It's a leap of faith that someone "out there" will like it. And a misstep on debut is probably not a great thing, career-wise.

Like setting a pet free into the wild. It'll all work out... I'm sure. :confused:

The rust builds. Wonderful post, and great advice.
 

Barbara

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but that does not always mean you will never return to it. The differences between my first attempts at writing that same book and the finished, published product are virtually unrecognizable as the same story, with the exception of a few basic points. I used those years (20 of them!!) to LEARN MY CRAFT.
So I would add to @Barbara's post how important it is to work on your craft when you put a book aside. You will likely be able to return to it later with a new perspective. A better perspective. A fresh take on it.
@Carol Rose, you're an inspiration. Your way of looking at things is brilliant. And like Emily, I love and admire your story/process/journey.

And @Rainbird: I suggest we'd attempt a new philosophical sentence for every writerly-cake morning, every time in frosting. Today in snow.
 

Barbara

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By getting on and writing the next thing even as I agonise over the last thing.
I think that's a great way of moving forward, and before you know it, the next thing has you hooked. And I agree with your oiling statement.

I find if I leave my work alone for the 'recommended' six months or so with the view to embark on a good old edit, I'm not so attached to it. Suddenly it doesn't seem so important. Not only have I created the distance to see it with fresh eyes, but I have also lost any preciousness about it. Maybe this is another good reason we need to leave it to fester for a while after we type 'The End'.
 

Katie-Ellen

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@Carol Rose gets on with it; regular visitors to the colony see a few fanfares but not a lot of noise, actually, considering her prodigious rate of publishing success. She is the Colony's longest running successfully published author that I'm aware of, and has built a real, live, actual book fan base.

Writers are a reserved lot in some ways. I had to cajole @Madz into telling us about I Am Thunder, and now he's about to publish Kick The Moon.
Published by Pan Macmillan @Andrew Okey.

Tis not a barren wasteland. Nil Desperandum.

And...this is directly related to a key theme of this thread....I Am Thunder was not the YA Fantasy Muhammad had spent so long working on. That
YA Fantasy was his dream. The project he loved. His breakthrough was a hot potato of a story...radicalization of young British Asians...and he wrote it FAST, working as a high school teacher, he got the first draft down over a 2 week school break. And why did he? Things he heard his students talking about. How to warn them, reach them without preaching?

I maintain a dump file, fiction material and a non fiction project. Why junk it when you might want to re-purpose it later?
 

Amber

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That was some darned good reflective writing on your part. I read every word.

I just wanted to say that before I started some of the usual.

I have and do delete things. I had to stop myself. I like deleting them. It makes me happy. I grow to hate what I'm writing and so I want it gone...off the face of the planet... especially if it isn't perfect.

With most of our mistakes, we can't delete them. I often feel relieved immediately afterwards. Then a month or a week or a day or a year afterwards my enthusiasm and interest in what I was writing returns and I try to find it. Sometimes I can find bits and pieces. But some is lost forever.

(Brief techie sort of note... you can't really delete something. But I've never gotten into that.)

I've resolved not to delete anymore. My brother gave me a new Mac for Christmas (which really puzzles and annoys me because now I can't be angry or upset with him for a very long time)... and I used a program called Automator to create automated functions. I organized my file system so I have a cloud for writing I am working on now and a cloud for writing I intend to work on. I also have a place to put things I don't want to be aware of. And.... it's all backed up on very cute thumb drives.




3227

Awww.... look at Woodstock.
 

Amber

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Thumb drives. Eh? You what? Light years ahead of me @Amber. I'm a techni-ramus quasi-fossil.

I get clearing out urges. The urge is very fierce. But I have sometimes regretted them.

Why thank you ... I think it's likely an old fashioned way of doing it ... and somewhat cumbersome....but I have a lot of thumb drives. A lot of people use external drives. I want a NES server someday soon maybe..... must let my Brother know... that would buy him at least another year of me not being hateful towards him.... might be worth it to him.
 

Rob Reid

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Given that the odds of publishing a novel are not great, a writer needs to decide whether they are writing to be published and earn a living (not there's anything wrong with that), or because they love writing. I wrote a couple of screenplays before I wrote a novel and although none of them saw the light of day, I realized that while an unproduced screenplay is not a film, an unpublished novel is still a novel. Most people lack the ability and discipline required to write a novel. Anybody who has produced a finished novel should take pride in that accomplishment regardless of whether they succeed in publishing.
 

Robinne Weiss

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Yes, I have three full novels in the drawer, never to see the light of day. I don't regret a single minute I spent writing them, though. They were absolutely necessary learning experiences to get me to the point where what I'm writing is half-way decent. Shelving each one gave me a brief pang of regret, but the thrill of starting off a new novel that I knew would be better was far stronger than the regret of setting aside the old novels. Any skill requires practice.
 
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