The Unbearable Lightness of an Old MS

This week has been a nightmare. School holidays, massive colds for both children, a broken leg that’s taking ages to get better, and a husband who also has a cold… Argh. Where’s my holiday??

As per usual I want to write and am frustrated by not being able to. Also frustrating are the doubt crows circling my desk. Some days I honestly don’t know why I bother to push on. The successes are so few and far between that it seems like a masochist’s game to keep at it.

Anyway, in the interests of keeping up some kind of momentum, and after a bracing round of thumping by the CPs (no, not actual thumping but the online equivalent) I have hauled out an old ms to give it a good going over before sending it out to another publisher. The one I thought I’d work on is one that Harlequin really liked and one I completely and utterly stuffed up the revisions for. 🙁 Hindsight is a bloody awful thing. I haven’t looked at this particular ms for a couple of years because it was the ‘one that could have been’ and that’s kind of painful. It’s one that I did all kinds of things right but because it all happened completely by accident and not intent, I didn’t know what those things were enough to be able to repeat them. In essence, the ms was rejected because my heroine didn’t have enough conflict. They thought she was ‘lovely’ and the hero ‘perfect’ but conflict for her? Uh huh.

Getting it out and reading it again was bittersweet. Bitter because of all the ‘what ifs’. What if I had known what I was doing? What if I’d managed to rewrite it better? What if I’d really understood what the problem was? And sweet because, you know, it’s STILL a pretty good story. At least, even two years later and having learned all that I learned, I think it works.

But the problem? Oy! I saw it immediately in the first chapter where I had written ‘she just wanted to be accepted for who she was’. Now that right there is the heroine’s character arc. And it should be what she realises at the mid-point of the story or even towards the end, not what she understands in the first chapter! Can anyone say too self aware??? And that, in a nutshell, is why she didn’t have any conflict. Because where else can she go from there? What more can she learn about herself? If she knew she just wanted to be accepted for who she was, then why didn’t she go and do something about it? Why did I make her pretend to be someone else? Characters are supposed to think they’re fine at the beginning of the book and part of their journey is figuring out they’re not as fine as they think they are. At least, that’s what I’ve been taught about character arc.

Sigh.

I guess the good thing about this is that the rewriting is not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I just have to make her less self aware. I have to make her think she’s fine as she is. She doesn’t need acceptance, pshaw, what a silly thing to think, etc, etc. Oh yes and need to beef up her actual conflict (because she actually did have some, it just wasn’t very clear). And then…then I guess I will have to think about subbing it. Somewhere.

Anyone else hauled out an old piece of writing? Was it as bad as you thought? (c’mon, we ALL think that right?) Or were you pleasantly surprised?

14 thoughts on “The Unbearable Lightness of an Old MS”

  1. Hey Jackie,

    My latest heroine is also having acceptance issues.. She knows she wants to be accepted (yes, self aware at the initial draft), but she never really fit in anywhere….so how could she learn to accept herself first 😉 is kinda the story!!

    Btw, I don’t think I can look at my first MS yet….might need some more distance..and yes, mine was the “almost” there one too..ie the MS which won the pitch, but got R’ed!!!!1

    I can feel your pain! and the bittersweet memories..Haul it and send it elsewhere! High time…

  2. Ju – yeah, you’re so right about that. High time. I think it depends on the story re the self awareness. People can drift from place to place without really being aware that they’re searching for acceptance. They’ll probably tell themselves they just haven’t found the right the place yet. I think becoming aware of why you do something (ie in the case of my heroine, she always avoids things) is the first step. But I suppose where and when that happens in a story is part of the character development.

  3. Jackie – I HEAR ya on the not having time to write. It makes me so cranky!
    Good luck with your old story. As soon as I’ve finished the wip, I’ll be doing the same with an old one of mine. Really hope I can make it shine this time around 🙂

  4. Rach – I’m sure you will, m’dear! Any time you want an opinion, just let me know. Mmmkay? 🙂

    Lacey – I prepare for the cringe. And usually I am pleasantly surprsied. Oh, there’s definitely heaps of cringe factor going on but sometimes it isn’t half bad. And if the rest of the ms is crap, you can pillage stuff for a better one. At least that’s what I do. 🙂

  5. Right there with you Jackie! Just hauled out an old manuscript – that apart from the fact it’s 50,000 words with no POV – is lovely!
    Say the words with me Jackie
    I CAN DO IT, I CAN DO IT…….
    There’s also something nice about doing justice to a story, and that’s the way to think about it!
    Good luck with new submission

  6. It’s a funny old world sometimes isn’t it? I’ve been a M&B reader for years and years – and I know for a fact that I have definately read books where the heroine is self-aware at the beginning of a story and wants to be accepted as she is flaws an’ all. I do get confused as to what an editor is looking for sometimes! Caroline x

  7. Scarlet – no POV! Lol! Does I think I can do it work? 🙂

    Caroline – Oh, I think the level of self awareness depends on the story. The problem with this story is that the heroine was too self aware and the reasons for her feeling this way were too nebulous. I could have had her knowing this about herself but then her actions in the story would have been different. For example, if she just wanted to be loved for herself, she may have had an ‘eff you’ ‘take me as I am’ kind of attitude. Or she may be shy and unsure of herself (which she is in the story) but there has to be a reason why she feels she can’t go out there and be accepted for who she is. I didn’t give her a reason. And that was kind of the problem.

  8. Hey, Jackie! Summer holidays with kids out of school is killing me.

    Currently I’m struggling to get through my current manuscript LOL. The thought of revisiting one of my old ones(and facing all my mistakes) makes me cringe.

    Good luck, Jackie! I’m rooting for you!!

  9. Aimee – thanks! Yeah, it’s a cringe all right. But well, got nothing else to lose I guess.
    Don’t remind me of summer hols – at least these ones are only two weeks.

  10. Hi Jackie,

    You’re lucky to have recognised where your conflict was going awry and that you have the strength to fix it! There are manuscripts of mine that I either can’t figure out where I’ve gone wrong, or that I’m not brave enough to re-work.

    I’m glad that the re-writing process won’t be as difficult as it could be: sometimes I wonder whether it’s worth it. But it sounds like it definitely will be! Good luck when you’re ready to send it on to the next publisher.

    Madeline x

  11. Madeline – well, this story is the least dire of all my old mss. And I have learned enough to see what the problems were – they were fairly glaring! But as to whether I’ve ‘fixed’ it or not…only time will tell. I hope it’s worth it! Thanks for the good luck!

  12. Hi, Jackie,

    I’ve seen you around quite often and have popped over here a couple of time in the past. Blogger doesn’t seem to like me much and wouldn’t allow me to post comments so I wasn’t able to let you know I dropped by. (I’m hoping it lets me post this one)

    Anyway, I found your post to be very touching! It seems to me you’ve put your story away long enough to be able to see its flaws.

    As I read your post, I thought–This lady has nailed the hard part! Understanding what is wrong and how to fix it is the important bit.

    To the best of my knowledge, unless HMB request that you do not re-sub the story, I think once you fix it, you can sub the MS to them again.

    I’ve read your entry in the last NV comp and I can see you’re almost there!

    Best of luck.

    Hugs,
    Monique
    Author of humorous, feel-good romance

  13. Hi Monique – thanks for the comment, I really appreciate it. Sadly I’m not sure this will fly with Harlequin again. It’s MUCH better than it was but still not completely sure I’ve ‘fixed’ it. And since it has already be R’d, I really don’t think they’ll want to see it again. Thanks re my NV chapter. Sadly that was a no go too. Not having much luck with HMB at the moment so I’m giving it a rest. I’m actually at a very low point with writing at the moment – not even close to being there sadly.
    But thanks anyway. 🙂

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