What To Do With Abandoned Manuscripts

What To Do With Abandoned Manuscripts

Writers always produce more than they share with readers. Even bestseller authors have abandoned manuscripts. This article will give you some ideas on what to do with them.

Turning Junk To Gold – What To Do With Abandoned Manuscripts

What’s An Abandoned Manuscript?

We all have some literary skeletons in our closets. It comes with the trade. When you imagine things, then not every idea is brilliant enough to share it. If you’re lucky, you notice very early on, and you don’t spend too much energy on a story you’ll abandon later.

But sometimes, you need to finish a poem or story or even novel to realise that for some reason, it just doesn’t work. There’s something about it that makes you want to hide it from readers. That’s an abandoned manuscript.

But should you throw them away? Delete them forever? No! Please proceed to the most important rule.

Never Throw Away Writing

Your ideas, your images, names of characters, phrases, and metaphors – they are your raw material! Don’t ever underestimate the value of your writing. Just like any other natural resource, it can be recycled and upcycled. Here are some ideas on how to do it.

1. Create A Place To Store Abandoned Writing

Call it ‘graveyard,’ ‘slush pile,’ or ‘bits n bobs.’ The name doesn’t matter. It’s important that you create this place. It’s a way to honour your effort! Because even if that manuscript is terrible, you did pour your heart out, didn’t you? There is value in this. Store the manuscript, be it whole or incomplete, be it a novel or a haiku. Let things sit there for a day, a week, a year.

2. Perform An Autopsy

When the time feels right, re-read one of your abandoned manuscripts. There are some good reasons to abandon a novel. But do they still apply to you? Chances are, you have grown as a writer. Find out why you abandoned that story or poem. That reason will tell you where you need to put in some more work. Did you lack the perseverance to see a complicated project through?  Did you wait for inspiration that never came (here’s how to write without your muse)? Here’s also a guide on how to overcome writer’s block.

Abandoned manuscripts challenge us to show that we’ve come a long way as writers. Once you’ve found the reason why you discarded that manuscript, please go to the next point.

3. Don’t Let Writing Go To Waste

Now you’re at a point where you need to seriously change your perspective. Writing is your biggest and most valuable resource. It comes from the darkest recesses of your mind. It’s a part of yourself that needs to be appreciated. All writing is valuable! How about making this your new mantra?

See it this way: abandoned manuscripts are not trash; they are simply not a bestseller yet. This little word makes all the difference! At this stage, your manuscripts should fall into two categories. Therefore, create two new files, ‘To Revamp,’ and ‘To Salvage.’ The ‘Revamp’-file needs immediate action.

4. Perform CPR

The first file, ‘To Revamp,’ contains complete manuscripts that can be resuscitated. Your autopsy should give you some clues as to what is wrong with each text and how to fix it. Some changes are small, some big. Changing your point of view might do the trick. Or switching tenses. You might have too much plot, or too little. Start revamping those manuscripts now!

Remember to kill your darlings. Often taking out one ‘darling’ helps to transform a boring manuscript into a potential bestseller. The ‘darling’ does not go to the bin, though. You put them into our second category, ‘To Salvage.’

5. Salvage The Wreck

The ‘To Salvage’ file contains revamped manuscripts that you still consider terrible, but where you hope to find a few nuggets of gold. All the incomplete manuscripts also go there. Then, you do what every owner of a junkyard does. You decide what to treasure: certain phrases, maybe a setting, or a character. Maybe the basic story idea still appeals to you. For all these things, create separate files for characters, settings, words, phrases, symbols, and ideas for poems and for stories (as many files as you like). Just copy from the original manuscript and store it away. Sometimes these things are like wine: they need to sit for a while before you can enjoy them.

6. Revisit Your Graveyard In Times Of Need

Whenever you need inspiration, go to your pile of manuscripts, and start reading. You might just find a darling that once was ‘killed’ but now is the missing puzzle piece for your current text.

Even if you don’t find the information you need, your abandoned manuscripts will probably set off your imagination. Reading these ideas is a great way to get you out of writer’s block.

See how this literary graveyard is a great place for new art? But it needs to get a physical shape – in our next step.

7. Keep A Writer’s Notebook

Actually, you need two of them. One should be small and light enough to carry around (for all those shiny new ideas!) and the other one tends to be bulkier because it will sit on your desk. This is where you store your potential gold.

Take all these files of unfinished business that you’ve created. Copy them on physical paper or print them. Keep the lists separate. Each name/idea/setting etc. gets a new line. If you have incomplete manuscripts that are very short, you may also put them there.

When you want a gold nugget for a new project, you go to your mine. Maybe you need a romantic setting for your new project? Go to the settings file. Need a cool name for a new character? Well, you had one in that poem you didn’t finish, right? Do you see how this works? All these lists collect knowledge. What was unused a while ago, might suit your purpose just now.

This notebook shows its true power if you take a few of those lists and spread them out in front of you. Put them side by side. For example, you might choose the lists for settings, names, and ideas, and then let your eyes wander. My imagination certainly works better that way. I take five or six of those gold nugget phrases and play around with them. I chop them up and recombine them.

I have always managed to squeeze at least part of a new poem out of that. I love it when I turn my junk into gold!

The Last Word

I hope you appreciate your abandoned manuscripts a little better. They truly might be gold in disguise. Remember, they are not bestsellers just yet. Happy writing!

Susanne Bennett

By Susanne Bennett

Susanne  is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.

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Posted on: 20th March 2023