Books in the Drawer

Fanfare! Another story in Korero Ahi Ka

You in your Book

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
It's a common piece of advice, for a writer to set their manuscript aside for a while after typing The End. There must be millions of novels forever lost in the mythical bottom drawer. These days, neglected treasures take up hard disk space, hidden in a folder.

There are excellent reasons for taking a break from working on a story that's occupied months or years of your life, dominating your every waking moment. The main one is that it's hard to be objective about your own work and having a distance reveals the shape of the wood that was previously concealed by having your nose pressed to the trunk of your tree.

There have been many famous works of literature rescued from the bottom drawer. Perhaps the best-known are the poems of Emily Dickinson, 1,800 of which were discovered by her younger sister in a locked chest.

Franz Kafka's The Trial was written, but not finished, ten years before his death in 1924. Executors of his estate ignored his request that his work be destroyed, which led to the publication of his novel and the word Kafkaesque entering the language. Stieg Larsson's The Millennium Series of novels were published posthumously, leading to rancour between his family and life partner.

E.M. Forster's novel Maurice stayed in the bottom drawer (no pun intended :p) until a year after his death in 1970, owing to its plot involving homosexuality. Attitudes and the law had changed by then, making it more acceptable.

I've been revisiting my own bottom drawer in the last few weeks. In preparation for writing the fifth novel in my Cornish Detective series, I've re-read the first four titles to remind myself of recurring characters and the story arc of my protagonist detective. I haven't read them simply as stories for many months, and, sure enough, I was sidetracked into editing as I went along—despite thinking that they were done and dusted. This is why famous novelists never re-read their successful books!

To my surprise, I found that I hadn't read The Perfect Murderer for 27 months (my LibreOffice writing software stores the dates).

Such an interval has made the reading experience feel more like enjoying a story written by a stranger, helping me to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the plot. Inevitably, I've been editing, for I noticed inconsistency in my use of en and em dashes (ain't life fun?). Such line editing is a thankless task, and I don't know how professional editors do it day in day out. I've worked for seven hours on the manuscript, for the last three days, but should be finished by the weekend. Last night, I started to feel like sleepy bunny, as my brain switched itself off!


What do you have in your bottom drawer?

Are there any lost masterpieces worthy of further attention?

Or, embarrassing failures that you really don't want to talk about?
Oh yeah. A fantasy with romantic elements trilogy (that I do intend to return to in 2018!!), several time travel romances (they simply DO NOT SELL right now), the women's fiction novel that's half finished (and that I also intend to finish in 2018!), and a paranormal series I keep wanting to do for Evernight, but that wouldn't sell well right now. :)
My first attempts at novels, a fantasy trilogy in which the characters are canines, felines, simians and lizards. Someday I'll rewrite them with my improved powers.

A paranormal noir focusing on a rakshasa (weretiger) and human psi, in which there is no magic - I figured out believable science of weres and vampires (but never call them that or they'll tear your face off). That one also needs a rewrite at a time in which the paranormal genres in general aren't oversaturated again.

I have a half-finished historical fiction about a teenage boy who runs away to join Mosby's Rangers in the American Civil War, but I've stopped working on it because the political climate here is currently one in which I don't want to appear like a Confederate sympathizer. Maybe someday...:(

Everything else I have in progress I consider a viable project. :)
I have a novel I can't even categorise for genre. It was supposed to be a lighthearted, funny thing that turned all horrible and dark, with a romance thrown in...Blech. The beta readers thought it was decent, but it didn't pass muster for me, maybe because it was simply not what I wanted it to be. I tucked it away with no intention of ever looking at it again. It was a good exercise--I played around with a variety of characters, and learned a lot in the process, but I have no desire to try to edit and publish it.

I also recently ran across the very first novel I tried to write--written in a spiral-bound notebook by lamplight when I lived in Panama. Horribly written, but some intriguing story elements there. It, too, will never see the light of day, if I have anything to say about it.
A virtual drawer, stored away online. Some short fiction, unresolved. Seven chapters of historical fiction with good lines in places. Current WIP put aside while I think about what I'm doing and what needs to happen.
@MaryA , I like your image of the virtual drawer. I hope you will finish your current WIP at some point. It sounded interesting and promising.
I have a drawer of half-realized ideas awaiting expansion, short stories in need of editing, and a novel that may or may not need a POV change. There's even a poem tucked away somewhere. As a result, no matter my mood, there's always something I feel like working on.

This full drawer sounds flakey, but there is nothing in it, except the poem, that I don't hope to see published eventually. Wise people tell you to leave your first novel in the drawer, but by the time I heard that, I was halfway into the sequel, and I was damned if I would leave two novels in the drawer. Both - along with the third in the trilogy - ended up published.

My drawer is a way station, not a destination.
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Fanfare! Another story in Korero Ahi Ka

You in your Book