Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Comes a Time

By Matt Sinclair

A little over a month ago now, I made a big decision. The novel that I'd been working on for years—tweaking here, there, and everywhere as I shifted scenes and fixed problematic points of view—was giving me fits. I still loved the basic story and the characters, and I was excited about a suggested story thread that came from my critique group, but I had a nagging feeling there were major problems that I'd not really addressed adequately. So I looked back at the notes a friend and fellow writer gave me when he served as a beta for me a few years back.

There it was, tucked behind the pleasantries and atta boys were unsubtle recommendations of moving some details up, building tension earlier, removing other scenes and details altogether, and generally doing the things I was slowly doing already. But even moreso.

What was different this time from the last time I read his comments? Me. I'm a better writer now, more informed, with a more critical eye than I already had developed back then. And I understood, the time had come: Fish or cut bait.

Yet, there I sat in my little boat, unbaited hook at the ready, line dangling in the water of the skiff, unsure what to do. So I asked my wife. She's a very sensible woman (though she's obviously vulnerable to matters of the heart, otherwise she would have wised up and sent me packing long before I popped the question.) But when I asked her thoughts about the manuscript, she said what I think an agent would say: "Trunk it and write something new that's more marketable. A trunk is not forever."

I had a box ready.

I suspect most writers of book-length work have novels that just weren't good enough. In a sense, it's a rite of passage. You need to learn how to write a book before you can get one published. In my case, it's not as though the novel that meant so much to me was irreparable, but I finally recognized that it would take a lot more work than I was willing to commit right now, especially since the market for literary fiction appears to be as welcoming as mold and probably not as warm or fuzzy.

But why should I share this little tale of seeming woe with you? Because it's not a sad story. It's also a little different from the stories you've probably heard others tell. This isn't about agents saying no or about whether I should self-publish or not. The story isn't ready. And it won't be soon. While we all write for our own reasons, I'm not ashamed to say that I want to earn some money at this, and I wasn't doing it with that novel. Not yet, anyway.

Know what your time is worth.

Writers must always be ready to work on something new, something different. We must always explore. Right now, I'm about 8,000 words into a novel that's chock-full of college kids, alien abductions, and talking cats and dogs. More importantly, I'm enjoying it. Like its erstwhile predecessor, it may end up in a trunk. But I'll make that decision when the time comes. For now, it's time to write.


Sophie Perinot said...

Wonderful post and wonderful attitude. I COMPLETELY agree with you -- an author's time is a valuable commodity and knowning when to stash a story away for later and move on is critical. Yet all too often if a writer even hints he/she is going to "trunk" something he/she is met with a chorus of "don't give up."

What these (very well-meaning) folks don't realize is that in any business sound strategy involves setting aside ideas that aren't working at the moment to follow other, possibly more productive, avenues. And in the end which writer would you rather be say 5 years from now -- 1) a writer with a couple of of novels in boxes and one (or more) on shelves or 2) a writer still clinging to his/her original manuscript tenaciously insisting "I won't give up?"

Me, I'd opt for number 1!!!

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Lit. It truly is a "business" decision, and I'm of the opinion that too many writers fail to see that. Yes, writing is a creative, artistic endeavor, but publishing is an industry, and writers are an important part of it. We need to make "business" decisions for ourselves.

Stacy S. Jensen said...

We never know where "the end" will take us. Glad you are writing on your current project. Sounds fun.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Stacy!

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree! I actually didn't get too stressed when I decided to leave my novel on the back burner. I actually have 3 back there. One I don't think I'll ever go back to (but you never know) - the other 2 I want to completely rewrite because while I still love the concepts, I've learned a ton since I wrote them. I hoping to 'forget' the actual words and take the outlines and rewrite them one day with what I know now! In the meantime I'm working on a much stronger story ... I think! :)

Ellis Shuman said...

You made a brave, and correct decision, especially if the result is that you are enjoying your new project. Talking cats? Sounds like a new Murakami!

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jemi and Ellis for your comments. Funny, Ellis, that you mentioned Murakami. He's a bit of a hero of mine. I'd love to talk music and baseball with him, though I speak absolutely no Japanese.

Matt Sinclair said...

And Jemi, I think your approach sounds fine. Many great writers essentially expand on a common theme throughout their careers. Look at how many times John Irving examines adoption, for example.

Arlee Bird said...

Might as well write and see what happens. You'll get closer to reaching your writing goals than by not writing.

Tossing It Out

Matt Sinclair said...

Indeed. ;-)