I learned a lot of things while writing, revising, and promoting my debut novel, The Duke of Snow and Apples, but the most important was this: throw nothing away.
If you feel the story you’re writing is going nowhere, if you feel like you’re beating a dead horse without even getting some decent glue out of it, if you feel like you just want a fresh start to work on something innovative and new – by all means, start again.
But don’t throw that old story away.
I wrote The Duke of Snow and Apples four years ago. I had a great idea about a gender-reversed retelling of Snow White, involving a runaway Duke who poses as a footman in order to outrun his past. I wrote it, revised it, and ran the gauntlet of critique groups until I thought I had a solid, engaging final product. 2010 was a good year for me – I pitched The Duke to several industry individuals (including an agent at RWA Nationals 2010 in Orlando), entered it in contests, and received such a positive response. An agent requested a partial, an editor requested a full.
And then rejection. Then another rejection. And another, and another. Entry after entry returned with frustrating feedback – The Duke was good, but not quite good enough to win/represent/publish. How to overcome the insurmountable, impossible hill of not quite? How to perfect something I already thought was perfect?
I lost a lot of my writing drive, and after a few months of halfheartedly tinkering around with my manuscript, I decided to give up and work on other things. My creativity wanted to play outside in the fresh air with all the new concepts and ideas, instead of staying cooped up inside with a tired old story. So I moved on to writing book reviews, essays, and commentaries, and attempted to write other novels.
Eventually, I got a new laptop. Last year, while spring-cleaning my old Word documents that had been transferred onto my newer machine, I found a copy of The Duke of Snow and Apples, and, out of a sense of nostalgia, I sat down to read it.
Suddenly, it was like finding a vintage Porsche buried beneath a layer of rust and grime. The Duke of Snow and Apples hadn’t changed, but in the three intervening years, I certainly had. 2013 Elizabeth Vail was a very different writer from 2010 Elizabeth Vail, and those three years had given me the greatest tools to revise my novel – distance, experience, and perspective.
Back in 2010, I’d grown too close to my manuscript to see the forest for the trees. I was too immediately invested in it to consider the deeper changes the novel needed to be truly great. Those three years granted me that well-needed objectivity, as well as three years of additional experience and artistic development. Newly inspired, I tore into my manuscript and rebuilt it with the increased skill of my 2013 self, along with a resurgence of the passion my 2010 self had held for this project. This time, when I submitted my manuscript to Entangled, I was accepted.
There’s nothing wrong with putting tired projects out to pasture if the creativity bug just isn’t biting – but don’t drag it to the Trash icon just yet. Sometimes, all a tricky manuscript needs is the hand of a more experienced writer – even if that more experienced writer is your future self. Who knows? That half-finished novel that’s six feet under one day – might just turn out to be buried treasure the next.