Monday, December 22, 2008

Why Every Writer Needs a Good Drawer

Gale’s post on her 2008 submission stats did more than make me measure my own stats. It made me reboot my MG manuscript.

The backstory: I had submitted my manuscript to two dozen agents over the course of six months. While I had my share of form rejections, the majority of the rejections were personal. Some were outright complimentary, but “just didn’t fall in love.”

I also submitted the manuscript to three editors. I met two of the editors at different conferences, and both had requested the full. The third was an open call. After making it to editorial meetings with two of the three and coming up short (the third still has it), I took yet another hard look at my 34,000 words. What could I do to add that sparkle, that extra spice that makes an agent or editor want more, more, more?

I looked and looked. But I couldn’t figure it out. My writing was tight, my dialogue rang true, my plot held my interest, and I loved my characters. So I did what many writers do when faced with this situation. I put the manuscript in a drawer, where it sat untouched for eight months, and worked on something new.

When I took it out of the drawer on Saturday it was like seeing an old boyfriend—he may have broken your heart, but now you can finally see his flaws.

Oh sure, there was still a lot to like in my MG, but there was a lot that needed fixing: excessive dialogue tags, overuse of “as”, and not enough internal thought and emotion. Why couldn’t I see that eight months ago?

I’m back to being excited about this manuscript. My revision is going well and I’m finding that some of the problems are interrelated—lose a dialogue tag, add internal thought to clarify who is speaking.

So I’m taking a poll—how much time do you let a manuscript sit in a drawer before revising? And do you welcome your story back, warts and all?


  1. Hi there. Followed a link on the blueboards to find you and have been enjoying browsing the blog. As for my drawer time... I usually put things away for a couple weeks before pulling it out again to start revisions. But I've also been known to tuck away a ms that isn't getting much interest and then re-visit it months later with "fresh eyes".

  2. Shari, welcome. Glad you found us. And yes, there is much to be said for "fresh eyes." I had worked on that MG -- my first novel -- for five years. Both it and I definitely needed a rest.

  3. J.A. - Love the comparison of a completed manuscript to an old boyfriend!

    I think a mss has to sit in its drawer until you a) can see the flaws and b)have the will to change them.

  4. I find it very hard to give my work enough drawer time.

    After a few weeks, I'm still too close to the piece and find I'm fretting over individual words, but not able to judge whether the whole idea is working.

    Need to force myself to move on to something new and let the current WIP languish in a folder for months.

  5. I've been letting my MG ms. collect dustbunnies for about a year--not out of choice but out of necessity. My husband got laid off from work so I had to put my ms. aside to step up my freelancing. Now that I'm back to finishing that long-delayed revision, I'm actually glad I had that forced break. I too am seeing some newbie-type stuff I never saw before. So...I'm hacking away again, feeling grateful for the break--though not the circumstances behind it--and fully aware of how important drawer time really is.

  6. It is amazing what you see, isn't it? A year ago, I couldn't slow myself down enough when I read a draft. Now I can really study it.