How Do You Know When to Let Go?

According to Thomas A. Edison, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

I’m not sure to what Mr. Edison was referring with that statement, but I do know much writer-ly advice disagrees with the sentiment. How many times have we heard that writers should stuff our unsold manuscripts beneath the bed and start something new? Fellow writers, agents, and editors caution against obsessing over one manuscript. They tell us to let go and move on. Give it up, already!

I wholeheartedly agree with that advice in regard to a first manuscript.  And maybe even the second. Write those books, learn all you can in the process, test them in the market, and move on. In fact, I’ve pretty much subscribed to the Write Your Next Book approach since I began writing novels. I’d give the manuscript my best shot and then put it away to write another. In fact, I’ve been so concerned with writing the next book I have two drafted novels I haven’t looked at in a couple years; it’s as if I’ve convinced myself whenever I’m not creating brand new work I’m treading literary water.

But I’ve recently realized the Write Your Next Book advice doesn’t always ring true. I wrote and polished a book I love (my fifth) and while writing my next book (a story I was exceedingly excited about, one that’s high concept and has a bigger hook) received editorial input on that fifth book.  Conventional wisdom says I should continue with the hook-y work in progress.  Exploit the commercial potential and finish that shiny, new book!

Instead, I set it aside and went back to the old. Am I obsessed? Delusional? Clinging to the past?  Maybe. But thanks to the editor’s comments I now understand where the story was lacking. I understand why readers weren’t connecting with the main friendship and why they didn’t believe the protagonist’s fear. And because I’ve written a whole bunch more since that fifth book went out, I have faith in my abilities to make the revisions work. I want the story to shine the way it always has in my head and heart.    

So I’m going to offer my advice:

  • It Is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if your love for the story hasn’t wavered.
  • It is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if working on it helps you learn more about the writing process.
  • It is Okay to Revisit a Manuscript if the changes you’re making aren’t merely a superficial editing but represent a significant revision.

That’s my thinking, but I’d love to hear your take on all this.  How do you know whether it’s time to move on or take a step back?

Tracy Abell is currently hunkered down in a revision cave in Colorado, putting finishing touches on a manuscript dear to her heart.

Tracy Abell