Friday, January 27, 2006

The Evil Snarkling


With the most profound regret, I must respectfully disagree with our dearly beloved Miss Snark.
Do not drag your unpublished novels from under the bed and hoist them out the bedroom window during the next rain storm.

Your writing is not a cake.

Please don't shudder at the dusty little buggers as examples of how short you have fallen from published glory. Please don't beat yourself up over their gauche presumptions. That's self-flagellating ego, not objectivity.
So by and large they're bad. So what?
Even retarded Cousin Cecil, locked in the attic with his garter snakes deserves some respect.
Margaret Atwood claims she regularly "mines" her old stuff.
Why?
Because the basic plot may be fine and fit, or some engaging characters may lie hidden under the passive tenses, the excruciatingly correct past perfects, the excessive adverbial tags.
Some vivid lines may rise like Venus from the clam shell of a stupid opening, or float on the waves of meandering dialogue or a series of cliche events.
A sub-theme or a conflict that deserves exploration - unnoticed before because the concept wasn't fully realized - may reveal itself, naked and unashamed.
There may be precious metal there.
So open a vein. There may be real blood in that stream of fool's gold. To mix it even further, fresh pit props and better hydraulics may allow you to re-work an old adit or sift a slag heap.
Strip mine. Smelt it down.

32 comments:

Sela Carsen said...

I mine old ms's all the time. Even in a bad ms, there's usually a line or two that isn't dross. A theme, a paragraph that so perfectly captured a sense that it's the only part of the entire, slobbering mess that I can even remember. Plus, I can't bear to throw them away. I just can't!

Sela Carsen said...

Jinx, R.J. You owe me a Coke. ;)

R.J. Baker said...

Good point. There may be a home for all the orphans...

Sandra Ruttan said...

There's a published author near here that did a workshop called 'Bestseller under the bed' - from her experience it might be book 5 that gets the first deal, but then you know enough about writing to go back, revise the old manuscripts and make them better.

Try telling this to people like Mo Hayder, who sold the first thing she wrote. I think it is an assumption to think that everything 'old' is 'bad'. It may be true 51% of the time, but not always. I haven't really tried marketing my first mystery ms much at all - though its being looked at by an agent who took it with no query - because I'd been somewhat successfully querying the other one. I figured one at a time - regardless of which I wrote first. Its no indication of which is better - my husband remains loyal to the first ms as his favourite yet, despite the fact that I've written three since (2 only in 1st draft stages - I just can't work on one thing at a time).

Savannah Jordan said...

For gods' sake, do not pitch them! Consider every avenue, use every resource. Piece-meal it in a private writer's chop shop. Use it to grow from. No first if fully horrid.

I eventually sold my first. It is possible.

Ric said...

some of those old ones didn't get published because you took the fourth rejection and said, "Must be crap."
Now, under the tuttelege of Miss Snark, we know that might not be the case.
I have REALLY big file cabinets full of stuff. Some is likely not good, but others may still work.

Problem is I threw the typewriter away...

Erik Ivan James said...

After all, are not our meaningful lives today products of all the short and long stories we have lived in our past----both good and bad?

Bernita said...

Exactly, Sela. Well put.

Actually, R.J. I was suggesting more of a dismemberment approach or an Xtreme make-over.
But Sandra's right, the first or old is not necessarily bad, especially from a mature writer who has experience in other writing fields.

Savannah means pitch as in toss/shred/heave, I believe.Not pitch as in pitch to an agent/editor.

Bernita said...

Oh Ric!
But you are exactly right.
And we see no problem with revising our current work, so why balk at revising an old manuscript?
I'm sure there's gold in them thar hills of paper. Sometimes all we have to do is turn the map the rightway around.

That's profound for morning, Erik.

Rick said...

Well, Miss Snark is writing from an agent's point of view. She doesn't want to hear about the books under our beds, and she doesn't want to see them, either.

If we pull them out and either overhaul them till they're airworthy or salvage usable instruments and wiring from them, they're no longer under the bed, and the above does not apply.

Bernita said...

Of course the extension should be obvious, Rick, but since I suffer at times from an overly literal mind,I tend to look for windmills.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Not all my work is as well written as my current work, but each of my works is a good story with good characters. All they lack is good writing technique.

No way I'll toss them into a flood. I'll rewrite them and sell them.

Bernita said...

EXACTLY,M.G.
The infant in the basket may well grow to be the Prince of Egypt.

Writers should avoid the blind obedience of:
Most first novels are crap.
I have written three novels.
Therefore they are crap.

And as Ric said, sometimes people give up to easy.

Ric said...

At the same point, Miss Snark is presuming, possibly correctly, that our time would be better spent creating new work, with our finely honed and practiced skills, than trying to rework earlier stuff.

A bit of a dilemma. Would new work, using our new skills, be more productive?

Bernita said...

I would suggest when ever one needs time away from a fresh hot creation, flaming pens, incandescent mind and all that, it might be useful to crawl under the bed with a vacuum.
You might be too close to the forge of the present work to smith it properly. At the same time your new critical skills will be nice and sharp and useful on an old ms. and provide necessary distance before you go back to the tongs and anvil.

Dennie McDonald said...

I never throw anything away, *ever* (I am a hoarder, what can I say ?!?!)

I have a file for "cut" material and I often visit it to see where/how to improve the writing. Even if it's not fit to use - it can help me when I need to think of a better way to construct a scene or whatnot.

MissWrite said...

I agree with the post, and several of the comments in here. I've heard numerous stories of authors who'd written novel seven and finally got the golden egg, only to be asked, what else ya got? And promptly selling several of the doorjams sitting around the house along with the golden goose.

Bernita said...

I'm all for squirrel festishes, Dennie.
Old material can sometimes help one identify a consistent weakness as well and sharpen one's edit eyes....pardon me, one's "editorial vision."

Bernita said...

Sounds credible to me, Tami, partly because there seems to be a real interest in "series" fiction and partly because of the reasons posters have listed here.

E. Ann Bardawill said...

I'm with MG.

The ideas are sound, it's merely the technique that requires refinement,

...like a leather jacket that's too stiff at first and requires kneading and a few wearings to lossen up and feel natural.

I'm talking aobut leather again, aren't I?

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yes, Ann, you're on it again!!LOL

I'm like M.G. I can't bear to trash even the most gross prose! I too, have folders of deleted scenes. I wrote it, that means it has life....I can't kill it.

Ha, Ha, M.G. that means all that stuff you made me delete, is lurking around waiting for a new chance....(insert maniacal laughter here)!

Bernita said...

Sometimes the ideas are not sound, sometimes they are gawdawful.
But WTH.
That still does not mean there is not valuable material to be extracted.

Ric said...

Leather? Did someone say leather?

Sometimes I feel like a voyeur on this blog.

We're writers. We write. So it is safe to assume that much of what we write should see the light of day. That's why we do it.

I never throw anything away either. Much to my wife's dismay.

Great discussion.

Carla said...

Even Miss Snark is not infallible (awaits flaming thunderbolt with trepidation). Besides it depends why they're under the bed. 'This is really good but we can't sell it because it's cross-genre' doesn't seem to me to be a good reason to impose a death sentence. I have one like that.

My 2d-worth on yesterday's POV discussion; I can't speak for anyone else but the scene worked absolutely fine for me. I like seeing the same event from different people's perspectives. This is something a book can do that film/TV can't, so it seems to me that we shouldn't abandon it lightly. The only thing that did throw me briefly was 'Sutherland landed on his behind. Damie walked towards him' because at first I thought she was walking towards Sutherland. But I guess pasting it into HTML ate a line break, because a line break makes it quite clear (at least to me).

Bernita said...

You help make it a great discussion, Ric.Truly.

We yearn for,we desperately need...a voyeur perspective.

A very good point, Carla. Thank you. I have been concerned. Rick's suggestion of double space posting will help.

jason evans said...

Simply great post, Bernita!

I've also got a shelved novel I'm going mine someday.

Word of caution: when mining, beware of sparks. We don't want another Centralia

Bernita said...

Um, from what I've seen, Jason, you won't need no friggin'canary.

Gabriele C. said...

Ric, what I do is to work on fresh projects besides revising Sucker Number One. I found out it's easier to try new things (from POV to outlines) with new stuff and not get eternally entangled in sorting out crappy writing and the lack of a plot. But I like that first thing enough to feel it is worth a rewrite, and sometimes I'll have a look at it.

What I abandoned for good are some attempts at SciFi and Epic Fantasy writing in the phase between realising Sucker Number One sucks and would scare the beejuzes out of agents, and finding my genre and style which I now can polish to a shine (hopefully). Those attempts never flourished.

So I'll probably sbumit one of the three Roman Empire projects first, but I'd mention my first book in case the agent can land the Romans with a publisher.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I didn't say save the yucky prose, I said save the good idea. The only thing that remains of BROTHERS from the original is the TITLE and the top two protagonists names. Everything else has changed. Everything. The basic idea is still, there, the theme, but the execution...it's not the same novel.

Crappy ideas, I toss. If it stunk at the beginning, it only stinks worse now.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

ROFLOL...no, no, no! I refuse M.G. to throw it away...I'm keeping every stinkin' line...LOL

Jason...that's really a flash to the past for me, talking about Centralia. I'm orinally from Scranton and my aunt lived in Sunbury...a skip and a jump from Centralia.

Being a 'ridgerunner', mine fires were a way of life. We had them in Scranton in the 60's and 70's. they poured billions of gallons of water under Scranton streets to extinguish them.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

oops...originally....even this late at night I can't type!

jason evans said...

Bonnie, small world!! I'm originally from western Pennsylvania (Johnstown). Now that we're in the Philly area, we often drive north through the Scranton area on our way to camp in Wayne County. That notion of a mine fire burning for decades really is mind-boggling for me.