Ghosts (and Lessons) of Shelved Manuscripts Past

Editor/writer Ashley Hearn posted recently about how “it’s easy to feel stuck after multiple stories without a ‘success.’ But when you look at [your projects], you really come to understand how no story is a wasted effort.” Goodness, wasn’t that exactly the adjusted perspective I needed in the year 2020? Despite being proud of the writing progress made and time dedicated (both revision and drafting), there is a small, human part of me still disappointed to be closing the year out with no exciting publishing news. I have been writing for publication for ten years (!!), currently at work on my eighth manuscript, and what do I have to show for it besides hundreds of thousands of abandoned words on my hard drive? Quite a lot of growth, actually!

Book 1 was a MG historical fiction (35,000 words) that taught me how to finish a book! Also, how to shape non-fiction research into story. It also ended up being a practice novel for writing a query and synopsis and quick pitching agents, which was a lesson in and of itself on how much learning and growing I had ahead of me.

Book 2 was a YA contemporary fantasy (54,000 words) that taught me the storytelling benefits and limitations of writing in diary format. As a NaNoWriMo success manuscript, it also taught me how to keep my butt in the chair, hit a deadline, and the joys of connecting with an online writing community.

Book 3 was a YA post-apocolyptic (70,000 words) that taught me to write what I’m passionate about, rather than chasing trends. Also, that it’s okay to abandon a story when it’s neither working nor bringing joy.

Book 4 was a YA fairytale retelling (abandoned at 34,000 words) that was an extensive practice session in writing dialogue. Paging through this old draft, I can really see my dialogue starting to come alive for the first time.

Book 5 was a MG contemporary fantasy (50,000 words) that taught me structure and beats. It’s also how I learned to revise. I reworked this book at least five times as I learned how to translate critique partner feedback into action items.

Book 6 was a YA contemporary fantasy (62,000 words) that taught me to lean into my natural MG voice and stop trying to force my writing into the YA genre. Also, how a character’s motivation works as the engine of a plot.

Book 7 was a MG contemporary fantasy (60,000 words) that taught me how to weave multiple POV timelines, juggle multiple POV voices, and layer in theme. Another lesson learned: never dive into drafting blind / without an outline again.

As a result of all the above practice, book 8, a MG contemporary fantasy that is coming out in fits and starts, has been the best drafting process I’ve ever experienced, I think, because I now have more tools in my writer’s tool belt, making me more capable of wrangling a story onto the page.

So, here’s to another year of learning and growing and becoming a better storyteller!


Published by hannahkarena

author & book publishing person.

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