Thursday, March 19, 2009

Giving Up Gracefully

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Writing a novel takes a very long time, a lot of effort, frustration and determination. This I know because I have written about eight of them. Three have actually been published. The rest will never see the light of day. I have given up on ever seeing them in print, and am viewing them as practice pieces on which I honed my skills and learned my art. All the same, it is dififcult to see manuscripts I put so much effort into languising in my "Archive" folder.

One of them, tentatively titled Kept in Trust, was, until yesterday, being reworked into my next submission. It's the story of a newly widowed young New York cop who decides to escape his grief by accepting an exchange placement, and finds himself culture-shocked in rural North Wales where he meets a very independent, prickly and determined single mother with an unpleasant past. Naturally he falls in love with her while at the same time trying to protect her from some nefarious drug-dealer types who are trying to kill her because she shopped her drug-trafficking brother to the police, and because she has information which might implicate them. And needless to say, she has no idea what this information is.

I know; so far it sounds OK, and in the hands of someone else (Kerry Blair) it might be, but having spent the last four months trying to rework it into something viable, I have come to the conclusion that it is dull and predictable, and beyond redemption. If our novels are indeed our precious children then I have just committed the cardinal sin of abandoning this one on the steps of the orphanage because, quite frankly, I don't feel I can help it reach its potential and give it the love, time and dedication it deserves. I don't like it, and I'm the author, so I can hardly expect the readers to open their hearts to it. I have spent years on this manuscript - but I could do better, and I want to do better. Part of being a good writer, I think, is knowing what isn't good and being prepared to let it go, however much you have sweated over it.

Of course, sometimes you are certain something is good, only to find that others disagree. I feel that my first two books are rather saccharine and overly emotional, and that Easterfield is the best thing I have ever written, but Easterfield was rejected by several publishers, and I have had far more fan mail for Haven and A World Away. I think it's fair to say that you never know how the buying public will react to a book.

Anyway, I have started the long, laborious process of writing a book from scratch. I am 2,000 words in Finders Keepers (only 98,000 to go) and filled with enthusiasm and hope that this baby will grow into an exciting, funny, stimulating novel which I will be proud to submit for publication, and even prouder to see on a bookshelf somewhere. But there is always a risk that after - let's think - about 1,000 hours of work, it might only end up in my Archive folder, another practice piece which isn't good enough to share shelf space with the likes of Kerry Blair, Jennie Hansen and Stephanie Black.


Valerie said...

Anna, I had to respond immediately that whatever your novels' shortcomings may be, you have a lovely and unique way of expressing yourself and I have tender feelings about your Gwen novels (including the third which I don't think made it to publication, darn it). I don't know that you want to hear things like this but one very talented writer I worked with has about 15 books tucked away in dresser drawers, but has about 20 published. The 15 are still near and dear to her heart but she, too, is resigned--at least for now--that these are rehearsal novels. Still, I know of a few authors who after obtaining some publishing success brought out some earlier novels--not always a good thing but then again, just as enjoyable to the readers who read the earlier novels. At any rate, I'm glad to hear you're off on a new adventure and feeling some of the excitement and hope of the journey.

Jennie said...

Anna, I too am a fan. I love your books. I would also like to suggest that you not give up on those books in your Archive folder. The first book I ever submitted for publication was rejected. A few years later I did a little revision on it and submitted it again to a different publisher. It was rejected. Eventually I rewrote it and submitted it as part of another book to the second publisher. This time my submission was accepted but the part that was the earlier book was cut from the manuscript. It went back in my Archive File. Years later I had a brilliant flash of inspiration and knew what was wrong with it. I did an extensive rewrite, and submitted it again to Covenant. This time it was accepted, was published, and sold very well. Don't consider your archive folder a dead end file. Do consider it a works-in-waiting file.

Cheri J. Crane said...

Anna, I just picked up a copy of your book, Easterfield, this afternoon and I can hardly wait to read it. =)Keep writing.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Anna, I agree with Jennie. Sometimes the proper distance from a project will elicit that flash of inspiration we need and then, BAM. It works. I think your idea sounds fantastic, and I hope that someday you'll go back to the orphanage and reclaim the little one. :-)

Jeri Gilchrist said...

Anna, I have to tell you the whole idea of your book sounded great to me. I'd be interested in reading it for sure! Like Nancy said, I do hope you'll one day go back to that orphanage. Maybe a little space and time will give you new hope and vision. I loved Easterfield. I love your writing, Keep on keepin' on! :)

Michele Ashman Bell said...

You're writing is beautiful and you have such a tremendous gift. Now that we know about "Finders Keepers" you can bet we won't let you tuck it away in an archive folder.