Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don’t Trash Them!

I posted this status on Facebook last week:

New authors: Does you manuscript lack the ‘fire’ it needs to stand apart? Don’t give up! Never trash those original ideas! Set them to the side and try again. You’ll be surprised at how new ideas will begin to flow…you may even find yourself reaching for the original ms, pulling bits and pieces from it, and finding a way to make it shine! Old manuscripts are not necessarily bad ideas…just really well thought out musings!

Book 1-A Heart Not Easily Broken – completed: all notes and handwritten ms.

When I started writing three years ago, I thought my first manuscript was perfect. The characters were engaging, the dialogue witty and flowing… the story line engaging. Then I realized I didn’t know what platform I wanted to use, much less what genre I was really in. All I knew is I had a story to tell. I wanted it to be a coming of age story but still be a romance. The characters were 18-21, so the story was more Young Adult. Because of the subject matter of the book, sex scenes were necessary, but I didn’t want it to be labled as YA and didn’t want to remove the love scenes  because they were pertinent to the story.  After listening to advice from my ever helpful critique partners, I decided to step away from the story and try something new.

Book 2- Jaded-editing: Original notes, scenes, new outline, 1st manuscript draft.

The next writing attempt followed  characters who were in their mid- to late twenty’s, well established in their careers, and old enough to have as much sex as I felt comfortable writing about. The story line was completly different, and once again, I thought I had it nailed. Then I realized the characters were not real enough. I hadn’t put in enough effort to make them believable. I didn’t know their back story, didn’t have a history to pull from to make my characters three-dimentional instead of two-dimentional. After sharing the first chapter with close confidants and having them nearly bored to death, I forced myself to listen to their honest feedback. They said, it was missing description in the scenes, and didn’t grab their attention….I put that story aside as well.

Book 3 – Lonely Heart- wip:Notes from original ms and current rough outline.

After taking a writer’s class, I found my writing platform. As a result, I pulled out the original manuscript, (thank god I didn’t trash it like I started to!), focused on the heart of the story, and re-wrote it with older characters….after peeling back those ‘onion’ layers to discover who they were. As a result, I ended up with a much better story by ‘resurrecting’ bits and pieces of the original manuscript.

As I went through the previous manuscripts, I discovered various portions of the original stories can be recycled. I’ve enjoyed fitting the ‘pieces’ from the ‘old’ and and putting them together with the ‘new’. I’ve been able to do this without pulling out the original pages to refresh my memory of the tale being told.

Book 4- Nobody’s Business But My Own- planning:Notes, rough outline.

One thing I must point out: if you put down a manuscript and begin a complete re-write of the story, do it without reviewing your original work. Step away from the story for a few days, or weeks and let the old story line leave your thoughts. This is vital. Why? You don’t want to end up writing the same stuff over again. As an author, the concept or idea should be imbedded on your mind without having to read it word-for-word. Doing so will allow the story to emerge from a fresh prespective. Switch up scenes, events, and add in more conflict, goals, and motivations. Before you know it, the story comes forth, and you discover certain events, dialoge, or even partial scenes connect to your original manuscript. You’re original scenes can become back story to your current work.

Book #5-Untitled- planning: Outlines, notes, scenes. Book 6 is still buried deep in my head!

It’s amazing how your creative mind can work!

One thing you must remember: Don’t get impatient or discouraged! From what I’ve learned from my own writing journey, and all of the other authors I’ve had the opportunity to meet along the way, the average time it takes to write a good story is at least one year. It seems like a lot, but think about the steps it takes to write a story:

  • Create the basic plot. (goals, motivation, conflict)
  • Design the location, backdrop, or world for the story to take place.
  • Create the characters that will inhabit this world. (names, back story, goals, motivations)
  • Research jobs, topic for the story, etc., so the story can be as realistic as possible. 
  • Write a story outline. (rough draft/final draft)
  • Write first draft of manuscript.
  • Read first draft, then write second draft, and third, and fourth, as many as it takes to get it as good as possible.
  • Edit.
  • Read manuscript again.
  • Edit again.
  • Wait for your beta reader/critique partners to read and send back their thoughts.
  • Read/edit again.
  • Eventually get work professionally edited/proofread. 
  • And yep, edit again (I swear this step never seems to end!!!)
  • Eventually, when you look around, time has passed, and yep, a year has gone by! 
Now of course, everyone has their own way of doing things. Some are better, some are not. In the end, it’s all about the amount of work willing to put into your masterpiece. Sometimes its a matter of trial and error. One thing I can be sure of, and I’ve gotten this from self-published, indie authors, and New York Times Best Sellers, you never stop learning or growing as a writer. With every book you write, your storytelling improves. I know mine has. Writing and editing my second book has not been near as hard as it was the first time. Why? Because I’ve learned a lot and have implemented the techniques. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard work, but the rewards of seeing the evolution of my work are priceless!

Remember, with hard work, creativity, imagination, perseverance, and patience, a lot of patience…you’ll make that original story become great. Good luck!!


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10 thoughts on “Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don’t Trash Them!

  1. Hi,rewriting without going back to the original can be daunting, but so critical to leave behind the writer we were and become the writer we are meant to be.and, a year for a good story? I have been writing and rewriting the same two novels for over 10 years. I have written other short pieces in between. Like many writers I have a demanding day job, so can only write 5-10 hours many weeks. I suppose that isn't much more than a year of full-time writing for each novel…but it feels like a lifetime

  2. Another great post! I think that once you accept that every story you write will be a challenge, the end results are that much more rewarding. A lesson should — and if you're doing this right — will be learned with every story you write. That's the stuff that adds "layers" to your characters and stories in your old manuscripts. It's the stuff that breathes new life into old ideas. Personally, I think the challenges we face in the process is what makes what we do fun! Ok…I'm a glutton for punishment 🙂

  3. Nice post and great list of what it takes to write a story! …I'm glad I didn't know what all it took before I started…I might not have ever started. Lol! I too am glad I didn't toss my old manuscript, because like you, I learned a lot more over the past couple of years. I recently pulled an old manuscript from under the bed and dusted it off, and now it will be available for the world to read in a few weeks (April 27th)! I even changed the original title to: Something New.Looking forward to seeing your book(s) on the book store shelves real soon!

  4. Great post. I look to my old manuscripts when I need to remind myself why I started writing in the 1st place. They will never be thrown out. Much success to you in your writing career!

  5. I love this post. You are so right! I have 10 completed manuscripts sitting on my computer and who knows how many incomplete ones. (And let's not even get into the binders and notebooks on my bookshelf–yikes! Even though some of those manuscripts will never see the light of day, I wouldn't give them up for anything. I learned so much with each one and they helped me get to where I am today.

  6. Great advice! As a plan, writing a novel is overwhelming, but when you break it down, it doesn't seem so bad. Just take one step at a time and evetually you're on top of the mountain.

  7. Hi MJ! Loved the post. I have finally finished editing my novel and am sending it off to agents.It may end up to be one I am revisiting in 4 years, and that's ok. I enjoyed your post and encouraging words. Thanks!

  8. I never throw out my originals, I even keep them on the computer as well as hard copied (and backed up digitally). I edit long hand, then save as a new document, like edit one, or rewrite one etc. You never know when your original idea works better than all the new ones that followed. 🙂

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