Reviving old manuscripts: 5 things a writer might consider

life without endMany years ago – in a former lifetime even before my academic career – I worked in the field of organ transplantation. I was called an “organ procurement officer.” An odd title, you say? Yes, odd indeed. My responsibilities included overseeing the transplant coordinators who were tasked with ensuring donor organs made it to appropriate recipients (kidneys and livers mostly in those days), and the public education programming for increasing organ donations. This latter responsibility involved developing strategic promotion plans, writing about organ donation and making copious numbers of public presentations. All in a day’s work.

While I was working in the field I became fascinated with the myriad ethical dilemmas posed by the transplantation process itself, but more so by the way the health professionals involved in transplantation demonstrated a kind of fervour, often bordering on the religious, about their chosen medical field. It was this fascination that led me to research and write my very first non-fiction book many years ago.

Life Without End: The Transplant Story was my take on the ethics and politics of organ transplantation in Canada at the time, and I think it’s fair to say that not all of what I wrote made the folks I had worked with happy. Some of them were very unhappy indeed.

That was my last job in the real world before I started my academic career, but stories about organ transplantation never really left my monkey mind. So, not long after that first book was published I started writing a novel about what might happen if that kind of religious fervour about transplantation got out of hand. When I finished the manuscript I shopped it around to agents which resulted in finding one who actually loved the story and decided to take it on. She did her job (or at least I guess she did – we never did meet only talked on the phone), sending me detailed lists of where she had sent the manuscript and what the results were. She never did sell it, so I filed it away in the depths of my electronic writing files and almost, but not quite, forgot about it.

With the advent of electronic publishing the idea of reviving old manuscripts in my files began to take shape. I’m a firm believer, though, that not everything we write needs to be published, or even should it be published. Sometimes our writing is either for our eyes only (or ought to be) or it is our writing practice. I had never thought of this novel as being practice, though; rather I had believed it was ready to make its way out into the world. So I finally decided that The Body Traders would see the light of day.THE Body Traders cover FINAL for print front

First I reread it and found that I still loved the story. Then I spent a lot of time over the past year rewriting and updating it. You can well imagine that a book written more than a decade ago would need a tweak or two: for example, back when I worked in transplantation we carried pagers – no one even had a cell phone! Updating was indeed required!

I considered shopping it again, but in the end decided to self-publish. So, what did I learn from this process? I learned that there are several things you need to consider when deciding to revive an old manuscript.

  1. Ask yourself why you want to publish it now. Do you just want to see it in print (electronic or otherwise)? If the answer is yes, I suggest you need a better reason. There are a lot of books out there these days that no one will ever read. If you really don’t care if anyone else reads it, perhaps you need to put it away. “Publication” and “publish” both refer to “public” meaning that the work should be for the public.
  2. Reread it to see if you still feel as enthusiastic about it now as you did when you finished it. If you don’t, put it back in the electronic drawer and step away.
  3. Analyse it for it currency. Are the ideas still resonant? Will current readers appreciate the themes? If you aren’t sure, ask someone whose opinion you value to read it. Perhaps even consider beta readers.
  4. Edit the manuscript for specifics that will bring the details up to date. For example, if the protagonist still uses payphone, unless it’s part of a quirky character trait, you need to do a bit of updating.
  5. When you have finished the rewrite based on your own analysis, feedback from others’ and your update, read it again to see if you still feel enthusiastic. If the answer is yes, you’re ready to press the publish button!

One writer’s New Year’s promise – to herself

Happy New Year 2015And so that time of year upon us again.  You know the one – where news organizations begin publishing their greatest stories of the year lists, the weather networks offer us a list of the ten worst storms of the year gone by, and the rest of us tally up what we’ve done, and more precisely, what we are planning to do.  I have never been a person to make New Year’s resolutions.

First, as a professor for the bulk of my working life, New Year’s has always been the first Wednesday after Labor Day – the first day of classes on my particular campus.  Now that was the time for making a new start.  But January 1?  Not so much.

This year I’ve been thinking about what the word resolution really means.  Who knew that it had so many different nuances of meaning?

According to the Oxford English dictionary[1] it can mean (among other more specific things) any of the following:

  • “A firm decision to do or not to do something;”
  • “The action of solving a problem or contentious matter;”
  • “The process of reducing or separating something into constituent parts or components.”
  • To resolve to do something means to “Decide firmly on a course of action.”[2]

Clearly, when people say they are making New Year’s resolutions, they mean they are making a firm decision to either do something, or refrain from doing something.  A firm decision.  I’m thinking that making a decision is not necessarily enough to actually get you to act on that resolution.  Perhaps we need something more.

That got me thinking about making promises.  What does a promise have that a resolution doesn’t?  Back to the Oxford English dictionary I went.

  • A promise is “A declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen;” which seems to me to be a synonym for what a New Year’s resolution is, but…
  • To make a promise means to “assure someone that one will definitely do something or that something will happen.”[3]

So, I guess semantically they seem to be much the same, at least as far as their denotative definitions go.  But what about that connotative definition?  In my mind they are different.

A resolution to me seems a bit business-like, clinical, removed.  On the other hand, a promise seems more personal, closer to the bone.  For me, the promise holds more sway.  Keeping promises is a value that I cherish, far above the notion of keeping resolutions.  So, what am I promising myself this year?

My 2015 promise to myself is to finish what I start, and that includes what has already been started but not finished.  Oh, I don’t mean finishing those manuscripts that in my heart of hearts I know were just for practice.  I mean finishing the ones that I know are meant to be finished.  That means that between now and the end of 2015 I have to finish two novels.

I think that those of us who write – whether for personal growth and a sense of accomplishment – or for a living (or both for the ideal writer’s life) all have unfinished business.  Maybe you’ll join me in making 2015 the year of getting the finish line.  Let me know how you’re doing!

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

[1] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/resolution?searchDictCode=all

[2] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/resolve?searchDictCode=all

[3] http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/promise?searchDictCode=all

A writer’s letter to Santa Claus

christmas treeWhat do you give a writer for Christmas?  Most of the lists of suggested gifts are filled with things like computer writing software, printer paper and coffee cups emblazoned with bon mots from writers who have gone before us.  I have a different view of what a writer – like me at least – really covets.  So, apart from the Moleskines which I covet every year, Santa Claus is really the only one who can fill this list.  I’d like to share my 2014 letter to Santa with other writers and aspiring writers.

“Dear Santa:

So we come to the end of another year.  It’s been a year of writing, not writing, writing some more, editing manuscripts, madly searching for a publisher, and taking a foray into self-publishing.  Well, you know what I’ve been through this year.  I’ve worked hard so I know you’ll look kindly on this writer’s little Christmas list.

  1. First, I would like a few Moleskines.[1] I know that they’re expensive as notebooks go. I know that other people in my life can provide these as well – but one can never have enough Moleskine notebooks, can one? After all if they’re good enough for Ernest Hemingway, they’re good enough for the rest of us. I also know that most of my work is digital. But I can’t shake my addiction to those brightly-colored covers. I seem to be inspired to write just by looking at them. Or at least I’m inspired to think about writing. That’s a first step in any project, isn’t it?books
  2. Now to the things that only you can give me. First I’d like the gift of a continually open mind. Let me see ideas everywhere I go and in everything I do (then the Moleskines become very useful, right?). Let that open mind accompany me when I read the newspaper, eavesdrop on conversations in restaurants and airports – well, you get the idea.
  3. I’d also like the gift of patience in the rewriting and editing process. That feeling that comes at the end of a finished manuscript at long last is wonderful, but can put me off from the rigors that are then required in the revision process. I need that forbearance more than anything else to get me through that part of the writing process.
  4. Then, Santa, although I know it might be difficult, I’d like the gift of compassion for all those agents and editors who can’t seem to answer their email in a timely fashion – even when they’ve requested the proposal or manuscript. *deep breath*
  5. I’d also like the gift of creativity so that I can see old ideas in new ways. I have journals filled with all those ideas from my sometimes open mind (see #1), but they are often derivative or jotted down on a whim leaving me without a clue as to context later. Please let me revisit those journals and consider how to turn those ideas on their heads or inside out to come up with a truly innovative approach to the material.
  6. Finally, thicken my skin just a little bit as I prepare to send out a manuscript to readers for pre-publication comment. I’m sure they won’t all love it (as they should).

Well, that’s it for this year Santa.  I’m planning another hard-working writing year and hope to be able to share with you at the end of 2015 just how far I’ve come with these gifts of Christmas 2014.  Merry Christmas!”

[1] For the uninitiated, Moleskines are (as their web site says): “…the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway…”  You can read about them at http://www.moleskine.com/en/moleskine-world and buy them all over the world in book stores and online.  The paper is great and the array of sizes and colors amazing.