Beating a dead manuscript

Your fingers are flying, all of your writing is coming together, you finally finish and…

You start picking your manuscript apart. Something isn’t jiving. Revise, revise, revise, and … revise some more.

What if the main character does this? What if I write it from this perspective? What if instead of a blue horse, he’s a sad cloud?

Does this ever happen to you? When do you stop beating a dead manuscript? Is it even dead? Or do you just need to sever ties with it for a few weeks?

I recently had one of my picture book manuscripts reviewed (one of one hundred it feels like). The critique was fantastic in that she pointed out a few plot holes I had not thought of. I went back to revise it and well, I can tell you that I went so deep down the rabbit hole, I thought I would never resurface. I changed everything, and then again and again. Days went by, weeks, a month or two. I had to give it up. This manuscript was not working out.

I was pretty disappointed in myself, but then I came across Author Josh Funk’s advice: Lesson #10: Some ideas don’t work. 

“While some of my ideas are solid enough to get published,” he writes. “I’ve written my share of terrible manuscripts along the way. Some of those ideas were doomed from the start – I just didn’t know it at the time.”

Josh talks about bringing one of his stories to a critique group where no one understood his concept. He continued to revise it to no avail, but that it’s okay, a lot of ideas don’t work out.

And I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes we have as writers. We think it’s our fault the story isn’t working out. Perhaps our writing skills are not up to par, so we sit there and beat our manuscripts to death. 

I’m a mom of two young children, I have a full-time communications job, and I’ve realized that every second of my day counts. Over this last year I’ve started and stopped at least two dozen picture book stories. Some had hilarious concepts, some had incredible darlings I didn’t want to let go of but forced myself to. I realized I can’t build a story around a few zingers I’m having trouble saying goodbye to.

At the same time, I’m grateful to have started and stopped so many stories. I think it’s put me on the right path to finding the ones that really work. The stories I’m most proud of. It’s helped me find my niche. 

If you find you’re still struggling, check out Josh’s guide to writing picture books:

His straightforward, tell-it-like-it-is lessons are easy to digest and incredibly helpful.