When It’s Time to Bench a Manuscript

Not too long ago, I met a few writer friends for coffee. A topic came up that many writers avoid. But we tackled it anyway.

When is it time to bench your manuscript? When do you know your manuscript will never be ready for the big game? When do you decide with finality that it will never garner the attention of agents or editors and needs to be taken off the playing field—demoted from a viable submittable story, to a story that should never see the light of day? To be blunt, how do you know when the hard copy needs to be locked away in a file cabinet (along with your other rookie manuscripts), and the electronic file needs to be moved to a folder named Training Manuscripts.

In listening to what my writer friends said, I considered my own experience.

I have one such middle grade manuscript that has been benched. Actually, it has been taken off my roster completely. I will never forget it (it was my original book baby after all!), but about a year after writing it, I realized I didn’t know the first thing about fiction writing. I had been doing a lot of research at that point and I soon realized just how much that manuscript was lacking. The problems were actually too many to list, but I’ll give you an idea… There was no voice. There were no stakes. There was no conflict. The writing mechanics were amateur at best. Shall I go on??

But was all that really enough to bench it forever? Not necessarily. I could have revised and worked on all of those problems. It’s not hard to add higher stakes and create conflict. I also could have rewritten it with all I had learned about writing mechanics, but I didn’t want to.

Why? Because at that point I didn’t love the characters enough to make it work. The world I had created was not all that exciting to me anymore and neither was the main plot. Besides, at that point I had a brand new story idea swirling in my head. So I decided to bundle up my first book baby and tuck her away in a comfy spot forever. I will forever love her though for what she gave me…the love of writing and desire to write stories for children. So instead of being a submittable story, one ready for the big game, I now see that manuscript as my developmental writing manuscript, the one I wrote well before I was ready to put a story out onto the playing field.

I have second manuscript that was temporarily benched several years ago as well. So why not just leave it there? Well, because this one was benched for a different reason. The plot had a hole—a big hole, and I just could not find a way to fix it. But I wasn’t ready to toss it off the team completely. I knew I needed a break from it and so I benched it temporarily. The decision to do so had more to do with the fact that once again, I had a new story swirling, one that I was way more excited to write. So I set it aside with the intention of returning to it someday and it’s been benched ever since.

It seems to me, the decision to bench a manuscript has more to do with needing to write the story that needs to be written. If you’re passionate about a story, even one that has problems, it most definitely can be saved from being benched. Plots can be tightened up, worlds can be clarified, characters can be fleshed out, stakes can be raised and conflicts can be resolved. Even voice can be practiced and revised for so that it’s present on every page of the manuscript.

So, what’s the big decision? If you’ve lost the love for that story, it’s time to bench it (maybe forever, maybe not) because if you aren’t excited to write it, your readers won’t be either.

But what happens when you do still feel passionate about your story? That’s when it’s time to take a good hard look at it. Critique partners can help. Is the plot really as strong as you think it is or that it can be? What about the story arc? Does your main character have a controlling belief, something that drives them through every decision they make? Have you added enough obstacles for them and an ending that gives them a satisfying new normal? There are numerous elements to look for in the revision process and when revised thoroughly and effectively, a story may never need to be benched.

The thing is, it’s so important to feel great passion for your story? It takes MANY read throughs to get your manuscript in top shape, ready to play in the big game. If you aren’t committed to it, the manuscript doesn’t have a fighting chance.

Sometimes, you just have to trust your instincts. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know already whether or not your manuscript needs to be benched. And if it does, don’t feel guilty. It served its purpose and made you a better writer. Keep at it with the next one. That one might just win MVP.

It turns out, all of us pretty much agreed on when you just know. But we also agreed that nothing really is forever. Just like athletes, manuscripts can be taken off the bench. They can be put back into play again, if your passion for it returns or you figure out how to make it score- how to make it sparkle.

So that’s it for today, Guys. I hope your writing projects are taking shape this fall and that whatever it is you’re working on, you’re excited enough about it to make it amazing!

Have a great week!  I’ll catch up with you all again soon.

Jackie

Characters Have Feelings Too

Hey Guys,

So, over the summer I had the great fortune of celebrating my Aunt and Uncle’s 50th Wedding Anniversary aboard a yacht. Yes, a yacht. It was a dinner cruise in the Boston Harbor, not a week long jaunt in the Riviera, but hey, it was still a YACHT. And it was definitely as dreamy as it sounds.

The ship was beautiful, a perfect setting for an evening sail with an even more perfect backdrop in the harbor. The air felt warm against the setting sun as the water shimmered around us. Waiters with drinks and appetizers tempted us at every turn, and later after dinner, as we danced the night away, the city lights twinkled in the background.

In a word, the night was breathtaking. But even in all of its splendor, the things that stand out in my mind from that night are the amazing conversations I had with family I haven’t seen in ages. I could call them relatives—that’s what aunts and uncles and cousins and cousins’ children are after all, right? But these people that I haven’t seen in so many years are much more than that. I share a history with them from my childhood, and a history with their children. But, it had been almost ten years since I had seen many of them. 10 years! That’s an eternity. Especially when you genuinely like spending time with them. But distance and life separated all of us and that’s just the way it goes sometimes. So as much as I was looking forward a night aboard a yacht to celebrate my beloved aunt and uncle, I was even more looking forward to reconnecting with my cousins and their kids.

But you know how these family reunion type events go. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation with so many people around, dragging you from one person to the next. I did however, manage to have a great conversation with one of my cousin’s kids named Cooper about his college experience so far. I definitely expected the conversation to be superficial. He was in middle school the last time I saw him after all. I mean, he barely even knows me! But as we got to talking, he was so genuine and I learned so much from him. He told me all about college life now (well, some of how college life is now!), like his classes and his lacrosse games. But that wasn’t what left the biggest impression on me. It was when he told me how he felt about these things that really brought them to life.

Sure, he could have told me what classes he was taking for his major or how many games his lacrosse team had won. Instead, he told me why he never wanted to go into sales… “because I’m not that person and I hate putting myself out there like that.” He told me why playing a Division 2 sport is better than D1… “It’s still very competitive but I get to play the whole game instead of sitting the bench, and my classes still come first. I know because my brother played D1 and they owned a piece of him. He couldn’t even pick the major he wanted because the classes conflicted with his practice schedule. I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

He gave me the scoop about going to a small college and whether or not he’d pick the same one again. He talked about how bummed he was to have missed a chance to visit his out of town girlfriend over the weekend. He was open about so much and it was great to catch a small glimpse into his life.

Chatting with Cooper got me thinking about writing and why it’s so important to tell the reader what your character is feeling. Sure the event is important. But what’s even more important is how your character reacts to the event and how that event, situation, or conversation makes them feel. Cooper’s descriptions and stories were so real and that’s why I was able to reconnect with him again so easily.

And that’s how your reader will be able to reconnect with your character too.

If he gets yelled at by his coach for not giving 110%, be sure his shoulders slouch and he grumbles under his breath. But also be sure to tell the reader why he’s so upset. Is it his pride? Is it because his twisted ankle is killing him and he thinks the coach is being unfair. Is it because he wishes he could tell the coach that he was up until 1:00am doing homework because he was taking care of his sick mother all night?

By doing so you’re letting the reader feel for your character.  That’s one sure way to make your reader feel connected to them as well…and that’s when he or she will want to turn the page and follow your story to the end. I know you’ve probably all heard this before. I know I have. But sometimes it takes an experience, like talking with someone aboard a yacht, to remember!

So have a great week, guys. I’m so looking forward to mine! Today was the first day of school for my son (my daughter is away at college!) and it feels great to be back into a routine and writing again. I hope to be making progress on my WIP soon. For those of you new to the blog, it’s a sequel to my middle grade magical realism story. I’m more than half way through the draft and this Fall I need to finish it!

What are you working on this week? Do tell. Do tell! Leave a comment. I’d love to know who’s out there writing with me!

Jackie

Swirl and Spark is 3 Years Old!

Hey Guys!

It’s September. Can you even believe it? I mean what the heck. Did someone flip the calendar pages faster this summer? Seriously. What’s the deal? I didn’t even have a chance to acknowledge my blog’s birthday. Not even a mention on the site—and that’s so sad!! So…

Happy 3rd Birthday to Swirl and Spark!!

*cue the confetti and multi colored balloons.*

My Blog Baby /Toddler is 3 years old!

As my faithful followers can attest to, the site has changed a bit since it’s birth on August 16, 2013. I guess it takes a while to find your groove in this great big world of writing and reading and publishing sites. There are so many more out there than even three years ago, with really something for everyone. The key is finding your own niche. So what is Swirl and Spark’s niche? Well, it always has and always will be…

the site for kids at heart who like to write.

So what does that mean exactly? Well, to me it means if you’ re young at heart (no matter if you’re 18 or 88) and you feel that strong pull toward the tween age group (in a non-creepy way), and you love reading middle grade books, writing them, or recommending them to tweens, then this site is mostly for you.

But it’s also for any writer really, because whether you write for adults, teens, tweens, or toddlers, we all share the same challenges, frustrations, and celebrations when it comes to getting the right words down on the page and turning them into a story that sparkles.

With that said, some of the tabs may still focus more on the middle grade age group of 8-12. Like the Book Nook for example. It’s full of my favorite titles and many new releases also (with more to come soon!). Critique Corner is targeted at middle grade writers as well. Since I write middle grade, I feel more qualified to focus these events on middle grade works in progress.

But since this blog is all about writing and books, that means it will always be for everyone. So please don’t shy away if you write YA or picture books. Hopefully some of the stuff in here with be useful to you too!

You may have noticed a new tab recently about my latest freelance venture: College Essay Assist. Obviously with this one, I’m veering away from the tween age group, but hey, I love high school kids too (seriously!) and I love working with them to polish up their college essays even more. So I thought, why not include it on my site, to simplify my life a little more?

I’ve had a lot of interesting stuff happen over the summer, many new experiences that I was positive I was going to blog about at some point this fall. Like, my daughter graduating from high school, my son starting his college visits, and my daughter moving into her college dorm. These have all been big milestones in our house and I thought, “Why not blog about them?”

Well, here’s why not. They are not only my stories to tell. They involve private family moments. And though I sometimes feel like all of you are family, we’re not actually family and my kids deserve some privacy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to write about them! Seriously, I want to really bad!! Writing is a way to work through emotions and boy have their been a lot of them this summer.

But I decided to journal about them for my own personal use, and instead blog about why these types of emotional experiences can be useful to all of you.

We’ve all heard that in order to write well, you need to experience life. How else can you accurately describe the sights, the sounds, the smells, the emotions in a particular scene? I may never write a story about a girl going off to college, but I certainly may write a story about a character separated from someone they love. And I also may never write a story about a boy walking around a college campus, but I certainly may also write about the awe in a boy’s face when he enters a world much different from his own. By experiencing the pain, awe, and any other emotion that goes along with an experience, I’ll be better able to write more believably about it later. And you will too.

So basically it’s important to get on with your life. Experience it all. Feel it all, even if it’s hard or uncomfortable. Your work will be so much better for it.

So, as I was saying, September is here and even though I miss summer already, I’ve been craving the structure of my normal routine and I have a feeling many of you have been too. I’m thrilled to be getting back to writing, blogging, cooking regular dinners, getting my house in order again, hiking on the trails near my house, watching my son race in his cross country meets, meeting up with my daughter when she can break away from her busy college life, having an anniversary dinner with my prince charming…and drinking my spiced chai lattes!

I hope you enjoy the last of summer’s sun and the anticipation of the crisp autumn air also. And remember what I said. Go experience it all. Do it. Right now. You’ll be happy you did, and not just because your story scenes will be stronger.

Thanks for checking in with me. I’ve been busy writing my next several blog posts too so stop back if you can. I’ll save a spot for you!

*Hugs*

Jackie