If at once you don’t succeed . . .

Hi everyone,

On Friday, which I declared “Do What You Like Day,” I fished an old nonfiction manuscript from the files for one more look. When I wrote it by request from Dutton several year ago, it topped 10,000 words. I signed the contract and banked the advance. Then a new publisher came in and cancelled nearly all of the nonfiction projects in the works, including mine.

I showed the manuscript around. A different editor liked it but asked me to shorten it rather dramatically. I did. He left his position with the manuscript hanging. Someone else, unfamiliar with the history, turned it down.

An editor at a different house asked me to shave the manuscript down to a few hundred words. I did. She didn’t take it but suggested how I might revise it. I did. She didn’t take it. I didn’t blame her. I was tired of the subject and it showed.

When I dug the manuscript out of the files on Friday and read it again after six months, I was impressed by how unimaginative my writing was. My prose had turned to wood. It wasn’t good enough for a middle school newsletter. I was that jaded.

I wandered around the house trying to get up the gumption to discard the project. For a “Do What You Like Day,” this was not making me warm and fuzzy. I might as well have stuck with the marketing plan that I didn’t want to do.

And then, out of the blue, I suddenly knew exactly what to do. Just like that my muse dropped the solution in my lap. I immediately proclaimed the rest of Friday to be “I Love My Muse Day.”

I am now busily and happily at work on what will amount to a brand new manuscript. Will it sell this time? Of course it will! I’m pumped. Bring me an editor!

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15 comments on “If at once you don’t succeed . . .

  1. Wood Block

    “My prose had turned to wood.”
    –David Harrison

    When your prose
    turns to wood:
    take out your hatchet,
    your axe, your saw,
    your trusty pen knife.
    Cut the undergrowth,
    the overgrowth down.

    Make tables, chairs,
    or papier-mâché.
    Make pencils, posters,
    make work.

    Be the anti-beaver,
    gnash your teeth,
    slap your flat tail
    on the water,
    with a sound like TNT,
    blow up the damned dam.

    ©2017 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

    • And that’s exactly the way it happened, Jane, fat tail and all. Oh, you said flat tail. Well, that’s almost exactly the way it happened. Thank you! XO!

  2. I have a few (more than?) like this in the files. It’s wonderful when, after a period of time, you know exactly how to bring life back to a manuscript. I often ask myself if editors realize how sometimes they murder manuscripts by constantly trying to put their imprint on a project. More often than not, they assist, and for that I’m always grateful. But every now and then they suck the life straight out of a story…and still we soldier on.

    • Good morning, my friend. Editors come in all varieties, don’t they? The best ones can make it happen. Ones at the other extreme can be destructive and never realize it. If this project has a happy ending, it will have its own story to tell.

  3. David, I can relate to your post, for this has happen to me in the children’s book market. I am thankful for the notes editors have added to my standard rejection letters. Then, I decide on quicker acceptance; I become a freelance writer and now, I have returned to looking at and submitting my files of children’s manuscripts and poetry.

    • Glad to hear it, Mary Nida. I once sold a story on it’s 13th submission and the editor who took it had turned it down years earlier.

    • As he did indeed! Neil is an old friend, a tremendous talent plus at all times a gentleman and kind spirit. I’m a fan from way back.

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