Revisiting a Past Manuscript

The writer life is packed to the gills with everything from social media to blogging, reading and crit groups, editing and branding, there’s barely time to write. And don’t even mention the real life with tangible people hanging around. For these reasons and about a million more, writers MUST spend their writing time wisely.  I have several WIPs and completed manuscripts in the archives. I know it can be difficult to know which to toss out and which to polish. Sometimes the work served its purpose by allowing you to see it through.


Absorb that. No matter how many rejections you get, you must be proud you finished. Do you have any idea how many perople “Have a great idea for a novel” or “Are gonna write a novel one day – when they get time.” ? OMG I’ve met hundreds. Everyone has a great idea. Few really write it. You have already succeeded.

Other times the concept is legendary but the execution was weak. But, how do we know which are worth the time? The decision is tough. No one wants to waste precious time. Have you asked yourself:  Do you love this one enough to give it the time it will need? Why do you love it? Do you love the setting, the characters, the PLOT? Plot is key. Do you have something new, fresh, inspiring, intriguing to offer? The best characters won’t matter if the book’s about the day in the life of an average mailman. No one cares.  But if you’ve got something that fell flat once before, it doesn’t mean it will again. Maybe the execution needs some help. Maybe with what you know now, you can deliver it in a way that gets attention.

I made rookie mistakes on early work. I dumped the backstory, buried  plots, covered everything with words like “that” and “just.” But lately a specific script is back in my head. It’s a great story and I think I’m going to try it again. I really love everything about it, but it wasn’t my best writing.

How about you? Have you been there? Do you ever revisit novels with 1000 rejections? Is it tough to know which are worth the time? Do you have a success story to share?! Share! Share!

18 comments to Revisiting a Past Manuscript

  • I love revisiting old manuscripts. Usually, I’ve given up on them halfway through, but the principle is the same. What I usually do is cannibalise the old ones for ideas, absolutely perfect lines or descriptions, and even characters.

    Re-writes are hard for me unless I’m changing something fairly major, though, because I hate repeating myself. But then, I can’t knit a pair of socks, so I imagine I’m a special case in that respect.

  • I can’t help but think that sometimes, the timing just isn’t right for a particular manuscript. My novel, Finding Felicity, was rejected and rejected in 2004-2005, and now, here it is in 2011 about to be released! There were no major revisions; it was just sitting in my desk drawer for years. I believe that you love a story and write it well, it will find a home. Eventually!

  • I’m struggling with this right now. I have an old ms that I love, but it definitely has problems. The thing is, I can now see them. Back when it racked up the rejections, I had no idea what was wrong with it. I’ve been having a hard time fixing it though, even knowing what the problems are. Rewriting is so much harder for me. Stil, I’m TRYING, and hopefully will be subbing it to my fab. crit gals soon. :)

  • I have one story that I wrote in sixth grade that I would love to revamp and make into a working novel for pre-teens. Think Spy Kids in Robin Hood era. It was wonderful.

    As for other pieces of writings, I unfortunately lost a lot of mine due to moving so much. Before I had a laptop, I wrote on tons of scraps of paper. I can’t really find any of them. I’m starting to do better at keeping my writings in one spot, one journal, or one folder.

  • JS

    I think I will be learning a lot from you. I just sent out queries to agents this week for the first time in my life. I’m learning that tough skin, and a drive to KEEP FREAKIN WRITING is essential if I really want to be an author someday. Thank you for all your insightful posts into the world of writing!

  • Cecilia! I love it! “manuscript cannibalism” I totally do this!

    Monica! Thank you so much for giving us all hope! Did you all hear that? Sometimes the novel really is fabulous, but the market timing is off! Hooray! *throws confetti*

    Steph! OMG I can’t WAIT to see what you have next!

    Ashley! You definitely need to write that one! Spy Kids in Robin Hood era? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I can think of three kids who would love it right now!

    JS! I hope you find useful information here and loads of encouragement! Email me if you ever want to ask something. I’ll do whatever I can to find out for you!

  • I have this one story that won’t leave me alone. I’ve probably written the equivalent of three complete novels already in an attempt to purge it. It has morphed so much over time that it scarcely bears any resemblance to the original, but bits and pieces of those characters & that story live on. Recently I decided they might be backstory to a romance, and I’m going to tackle the remnants again … I’ll let you know how it pans out. :-)

  • Someday maybe I’ll grow eyes in the back of my head, and that’ll be the day I look behind me…lol Seriously, I find myself always moving forward with new ideas, not ever wanting to revisit old works. I don’t think it’s either good or bad, but it’s how I seem to be wired.

  • I have an old MS I’ve been meaning to get back to for over a year. I intentionally set it aside because, despite my love of the characters and the great premise, it just wasn’t working. My characters were too good or bad and my writing was weak. I took on another project – just got the proof today – while I Imulled over how to fix the old story. The wait was worth it – I have tons of ideas. I’ll soon take another crack at it.

  • Excellent post! I love the point about taking an idea you’ve had and sticking with it. I’m afraid I fall into the “I’m going to write a novel one day! I swear it!” category. But this is why we do it right? Get your idea and give it enough water, sun and soil to turn it into something.

  • Earlier this year I went through my portfolio of old stuff, looking for anything — little baby idealets I could nurture into mature works, or ghosts of old pieces I could taunt into walking again.

    Yeah. That ended in a lot of embarrassed cringing… and one revised poem that might actually be pretty good…

    Great post! :D

  • I’ve got a few I have in cold storage and one that has helped me create a world (literally, I have hand created maps made through Photoshop). Most of my flash fiction is about the world; capturing ideas and giving it flavor, helping me build it to where I want. I also partook in Script Frenzy, forced myself to write a little clearer. Writing poetry helped too. I went back recently to my very first manuscript (oh sweet, innocent twenty-year-old) and now I can see ways to improve it if I wanted. Going back is fine, using your growth and experience is better! Thanks for sharing this great post, love it!

  • I’m a little biased because I’m currently reworking my first MS. So I have to say treasure! A good indicator for any writer as to whether they have trash or treasure is by the number of partial requests they get. I received a lot but my writing didn’t back up the great plot I had. I’m hoping 2 years later I’ve learned a thing or two about writing and can finally give my kick-butt plot justice. :)

  • Oops I meant “do” it justice. I think it might be a tad hard to give it justice. Hee hee

  • I have set aside my very first novel. It wasn’t working for me, but now, it’s stuck in my head, waiting for me to get back to it and make it better. I’m not ready to give up on it yet, but it needs a complete make-over. I can’t wait to “love” it and not merely “like” it.

    Enjoyed the post. :)

  • Absolutely. I’ve been writing scripts (seriously) for ten years. I had an idea about 6 years ago for a fantasy film that I worked on and worked on but could never get quite right.

    Then suddenly TODAY it occurred to me how to make it work. And it’s a story I’ve wanted to tell since I was a child, I just didn’t know how. I think having finished several scripts and a novel over the past year (yeah, go me) has unclogged the stopper, because suddenly it’s not so hard to have many projects on the go. In fact it’s downright joyous. Writing the novel made it clear that while there are many great things in life, writing is how I like to spend most of my time. I’ve totally fallen in love with it. I love what Joss Whedon says, that he listens to which of his projects is crying out for attention and he feeds that first, and that defines his day. Unless he’s directing some massive Hollywood movie…

    You’re right, finishing something and more importantly getting into the HABIT of finishing something brings an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I always enjoy editing and rewriting, but getting the thing finished in the first place is about as important as it gets. As Will Self says, then you have a substantial chunk of work to go back into and hack and slash and make the thing work.

    Ah, writing… love it.

  • [...] the words of fellow writer, Julie Anne Lindsey, in her blog, Musings From The Slush Pile, finishing a full manuscript is a monumental event. It is so monumental that after self-publishing [...]

  • [...] the words of fellow writer, Julie Anne Lindsey, in her blog, Musings From The Slush Pile, finishing a full manuscript is a monumental event. It is so monumental that after self-publishing [...]

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