Last summer, I ditched 60,000 words from my work-in-progress and started over from scratch. I finished the manuscript this past February. We’re talking a completed, polished, I-thought-it-was-ready manuscript.
I was wrong.
Two things happened: I gave the book to nine beta readers. Got feedback from four. Crickets from the rest. The feedback I got was mostly mixed. I also put the manuscript in a drawer from the end of Feb to early June. Didn’t touch it once.
In June, I read the whole thing. And I saw what the problem was. I hadn’t inconvenienced my readers. It was a book that people could put down.
I emailed those five quiet betas after I read the book and told them they were off the hook, that I was going in a different direction. (I didn’t want there to be any hard feelings.) I received polite, grateful replies from most of them. I talked to three of those folks, and they all said the same thing: they enjoyed what they had read so far, which wasn’t much, but they just didn’t have time. That’s not the kind of writing I want to produce. I want to produce writing that makes people continue reading even when they’re too busy and they don’t have time. That’s what my favorite books do.
This particular manuscript was my strongest prose to date, and that’s where I stumbled. I was paying too much attention to the sentence-to-sentence work rather than the plot. This has happened to me before (I remember when my faculty advisor in grad school made the same observation about my work…that I tend to be at my best in the “drafty” moments).
So, that’s where I’m at. Starting over. Again. I have no idea if I’ll be able to salvage this. Only time will tell.
And yeah, it was disappointing (to put it mildly) as all hell to start over from scratch.
But that’s life.